White House chief of staff Ron Klein, who was a central force in Joe Biden’s first two years in office, is expected to step down within weeks of the president’s State of the Union address, according to multiple people familiar with the matter.
Klein, whose exact timetable is still undetermined, is expected to spend some time in the West Wing to help replace him during the transition, one of the people said. The State of the Union address is scheduled for February 7.
Klein’s departure comes at a difficult time for Biden, with a special counsel investigating his handling of classified information as vice president and with the administration and the president’s family facing scrutiny in the Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives. New round of review. An official familiar with Kline’s plans said his decision to resign was unrelated to the ongoing investigation into classified documents discovered in Biden’s private office and Delaware residence, and the decision was made before the special counsel was announced.
Kline’s expected departure has been widely discussed in and around the White House in recent weeks, though those discussions — and speculation about who will succeed Kline — have intensified in recent days. Those deliberations coincided with the public disclosure of misplaced classified documents, and multiple people familiar with the situation said there was sensitivity to avoid falsely suggesting that Kline’s eventual departure could be linked to the development.
The New York Times first reported Kline’s expected departure.
Klein has been considering quitting since November’s midterm elections, according to a person familiar with the matter, who said White House insiders have been closely watching for clues about his intentions. Klein has been known to email employees all the time and even check gas prices in the middle of the night—a work cadence that many of his colleagues believe is unsustainable in the long run.
Klein himself has publicly — and privately in more detail — pointed out the grueling and exhausting nature of the position. But his entrenched influence in nearly every aspect of the West Wing, combined with his decades-long relationship with Biden, has led some White House officials to urge him to stay in the role.
Still, officials have been quietly weighing his potential successor, including presidential adviser Steve Ricchetti, one of Biden’s closest advisers for years; Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack ; Labor Secretary Marty Walsh; Jeff Zients, a former Obama administration official in charge of Biden’s Covid-19 response; and Anita Dunn, a senior adviser for White House communications and messaging, among others.
Officials said Dunn had publicly said she did not want the job and had reiterated that view privately, though a person familiar with the matter said Dunn expressed interest in becoming the first female chief of staff.
Kline’s departure could herald other changes within the West Wing, as senior staff either pivot to an expected re-election campaign or decide to leave the administration after two years. A talent search process led by Zients has been ongoing to identify potential replacements for the top positions.
With his departure, Kline will be one of the longest-serving first-term chiefs of staff for a Democratic president in recent memory, a fact that hasn’t been lost on White House insiders.
It’s hard to overstate his active involvement in every aspect of Biden’s big decisions in his first two years as president. In the first half of the administration, deliberations large and small — everything from politics to policy issues — will not only bear Klein’s stamp, but most of the time, he will be directly involved in some way. Over the past two years, when lawmakers, political allies, and policy advocates alike were asked who their immediate contacts in the West Wing were on any given issue, they tended to simply answer with one word: “Romans. Yep”.
The veteran political figure’s tenure has been marked by a string of key legislative accomplishments from the White House and his penchant for delivering opinions on a variety of topics at all hours of the day.
Kline’s expected decision marks one of the first high-profile departures from an administration marked by low turnover in its first two years.
Biden announced that Klein would assume the top job on Nov. 11, 2020, a few days after the presidential election.
On Friday, Klein marked Biden’s second anniversary with a celebratory employee email and cake.
“Today — halfway through this President’s and Vice President’s term — we celebrate not just what has been achieved, but how: through teamwork, collaboration, mutual respect and a lot of hard work. This team has done a lot historic things, and accomplished them in historic fashion, as part of the most diverse and talented White House staff ever,” Klein told the White House in emails obtained by CNN assistant.
Klein pointed to jobs and economic growth, stabilization of the pandemic, climate action, steps to combat racism and promote equity, and efforts to protect democracy in the United States and abroad as examples of their success.
“I’m just astounded by what this team has done and how you’ve done it. So I’m treating everyone to cake this afternoon to celebrate our success and your hard work,” he said in an email.
Kline served alongside Biden as chief counsel of the Senate Judiciary Committee in the early 1990s, and the Delaware Democrat is the committee’s chairman. Two years later, Kline led President Bill Clinton’s team leading the confirmation of the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
He later became Vice President Al Gore’s second chief of staff, and while he left in 1999 amid a dispute between Gore and Clinton allies, he returned to the Tennessee Democratic presidential campaign a year later, And become his general counsel for a future recount effort or, ultimately, George W. Bush’s 537-vote victory in Florida in 2000 that brought the Republicans to the White House.
Klein went on to work as a lobbyist and political consultant, and was involved in John Kerry’s 2004 presidential campaign. He was once again working for Biden as the vice president’s chief of staff early in President Barack Obama’s administration.
He left the White House in 2011 to help lead an investment firm, but returned to the White House in 2014 when Obama appointed him Ebola Response Coordinator, the task he oversaw the government’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic after Biden took office skill set.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the date that Joe Biden announced that Ron Kline would be his chief of staff. That’s November 11, 2020.
This story and headline have been updated.