Klain (left) advised the Obama Administration during the West African Ebola epidemic.
Klain (left) advised the Obama Administration during the West African Ebola epidemic. (Photo: the White House, reproduced under Creative Commons license)

Pres­i­dent-elect Joe Biden named Ron Klain as his White House chief of staff on Wednes­day, the first pick for the future Biden administration’s Cab­i­net. The chief of staff is nor­mal­ly one of the most pow­er­ful roles in Wash­ing­ton D.C., since the role involves man­ag­ing access to the Pres­i­dent and plan­ning their schedule.

Klain (left) advised the Obama Administration during the West African Ebola epidemic.

Klain (left) advised the Oba­ma Admin­is­tra­tion dur­ing the West African Ebo­la epi­dem­ic. (Pho­to: the White House, repro­duced under Cre­ative Com­mons license)

Klain is high­ly expe­ri­enced at fed­er­al pol­i­tics; he worked as Biden’s vice-pres­i­den­tial Chief of Staff from 2009 to 2011, and has served in vary­ing roles under Pres­i­dent Oba­ma, Vice Pres­i­dent Al Gore, Attor­ney Gen­er­al Janet Reno, and a num­ber of Sen­ate com­mit­tees. Per­haps most impor­tant­ly, giv­en the cur­rent sit­u­a­tion, Klain served as the White House’s Ebo­la Response Coor­di­na­tor at the height of the West African Ebo­la epidemic.

Klain was picked for his close per­son­al ties to Joe Biden. He has worked with the Pres­i­dent-elect ever since the 1980s, serv­ing in all three of Biden’s pres­i­den­tial cam­paigns (1988, 2008, and 2020), as well as advis­ing Biden when the lat­ter was serv­ing as a U.S. sen­a­tor. Klain’s appoint­ment is a sign that, rather than con­scious­ly hew­ing to the pro­gres­sive or neolib­er­al wings of the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty, Biden is like­ly to appoint inhab­i­tants of “Biden­world” to top positions.

Although Klain is a Capi­tol Hill vet­er­an, promi­nent pro­gres­sive lead­ers expressed opti­mism about the pick. Unit­ed States Sen­a­tor Eliz­a­beth War­ren of Mass­a­chu­setts tweet­ed that Klain is “a superb choice” who has “earned trust all across the entire Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty.” Ever­green Action, a cli­mate-focused pres­sure group, released a state­ment point­ing out Klain’s work with Al Gore and prais­ing his will­ing­ness to “put the sci­ence first” when craft­ing policy.

David Segal, the exec­u­tive direc­tor of Des­mand Progress, said that while Klain is “not a move­ment pro­gres­sive by any means…the alter­na­tives were square­ly aligned with the wants of cor­po­rate elites.” Segal’s group had been qui­et­ly lob­by­ing for Klain’s appoint­ment before the election.

Biden him­self said of Klain:

“Ron has been invalu­able to me over the many years that we have worked togeth­er… His deep, var­ied expe­ri­ence and capac­i­ty to work with peo­ple all across the polit­i­cal spec­trum is pre­cise­ly what I need in a White House chief of staff as we con­front this moment of cri­sis and bring our coun­try togeth­er again.”

Klain’s main tasks in the com­ing days will be to advise the Pres­i­dent-elect, help assem­ble the rest of his Cab­i­net picks, and work towards a smooth tran­si­tion of pow­er. This last task will be the hard­est, as Don­ald Trump and most oth­er Repub­li­cans con­tin­ue to refuse to accept defeat.

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