1. McDonough holds his Catholic faith in high importance. When his family moved from Boston to Stillwater, Minn., in 1966, his mother insisted that their new house was near a Catholic church. From an April 2013 Newsweek story by Joshua DuBois:
I asked McDonough how his Catholic upbringing intersects with his work in the White House, and he told me that he picked up some important lessons from the church along the way. He pointed to Catholic teachings on helping the poor—the “least of these”—and on giving everyone a fair shake. He also said, “My brother Kevin used to say that the great thing about the Catholic faith is that it’s a faith of books. There’s a sense that wisdom is earned through preparation and study, rather than owned by any one individual. In the Catholic Church, you have to read”—from the Bible to encyclicals. “You have to be prepared.”
“In the same way,” McDonough says, “I try to bring a great level of preparedness to any decision I have to make, or any advice that I give to the president.”
2. McDonough used to ride his bicycle to work before President Barack Obama named him White House chief of staff on Jan. 25, 2013. But once McDonough assumed the job, the president made him stop biking to work. In fact, when McDonough last appeared on “Meet the Press” in February, David asked him about it.
3. As deputy national security adviser, McDonough worked long hours to assist the president with many of the decisions he faced during his first term. Obama made note of that when he named McDonough to be his chief of staff. From the Pioneer-Press:
Obama said Friday that McDonough has played a key role in every major national security decision of his presidency -- from ending the war in Iraq to winding down the war in Afghanistan, from the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell" to countless crises in between, day and night.
"And that includes many nights. I've actually begun to think that Denis likes pulling all-nighters," Obama said, prompting laughter, during the announcement. "The truth is nobody out-works Denis McDonough. And part of the reason you saw such warmth of applause is that, in addition to being an incredible talent and such a hard worker, Denis is also a pretty humble guy. To so many of his friends and admirers, he's still just the 'dude' from Stillwater, Minnesota."
4. During the president's second term, McDonough reportedly said he wanted to improve the relationship between lawmakers on Capitol Hill and the White House. From The Wall Street Journal:
Mr. McDonough has deep roots on Capitol Hill, having worked as a top adviser to former Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle, and when he took over as chief of staff, he told the president he wanted to strengthen congressional ties, according to a person familiar with the conversation. His first step was to improve access.
Sen. Johnny Isakson (R., Ga.), who hosted a budget meeting with Mr. McDonough last week, said: "In the first term I never had a chance to see or talk to the chief of staff." Sen. Joe Manchin (D., W.Va.) said he didn't hear from the White House after he was elected to the Senate in 2010. "Nobody called and said, 'Good to have you here,' " he said, adding that that changed when Mr. McDonough took over.
A series of dinners hosted by the president in the spring has morphed into meetings between Mr. McDonough, senior White House aides and a group of eight GOP senators. Last week, Mr. McDonough met twice with the Republicans, including a two-hour session in his West Wing office. Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.), a member of the Senate group, welcomed Mr. McDonough's approach as "a sea change," but he said that on the budget talks, "we're not making a lot of progress."
5. President Obama’s walk with McDonough helped him decide to ask for congressional approval on potential military strikes in Syria. From NBC’s Chuck Todd:
Obama had been leaning toward attacking Syria without a congressional vote for the past week, the officials said. Obama was convinced he had the evidence to back up a strike and as a result dispatched Secretary of State John Kerry to make a passionate case for U.S. action. But only hours after Kerry called Syrian President Bashar al-Assad "a thug and a murderer" and accused his regime of using chemical weapons to kill 1,429 people, Obama changed his mind as he walked across the South Lawn with Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, the officials said.
6. McDonough often gives the gift of time to students from his alma mater, St. John’s University in Collegeville, Minn. From St. John’s Magazine:
Since 2007, he has taken time from whatever position he has been in to meet with groups of students from Saint John’s University and the Collegeof Saint Benedict. The groups, organized through the Eugene J. McCarthy Center for Public Policy and Civic Engagement, meet with a variety of people working in the capital, from lobbyists to military leaders, but McDonough is the most high-profile person to sit down with them. After speaking to the students for nearly an hour recently, he asked, “Do you have a little more time?” Then he spent another 45 minutes giving them a tour of the White House.
7. McDonough has been part of the Obama administration’s plan to “flood the zone” and convince Congress that limited military strikes in Syria are necessary. McDonough is also enlisting the help of Obama’s former advisers. From The New York Times:
The White House is deploying President Obama’s political brain trust from the 2008 campaign to help make the case for military action in Syria. Several of Mr. Obama’s closest former aides gathered at the White House on Tuesday morning at the behest of the chief of staff, Denis R. McDonough, to coordinate their message.
Among those taking part are David Plouffe, the president’s former senior adviser and campaign manager; Robert Gibbs, the former press secretary; Jon Favreau, a former chief speechwriter; and Tommy Vietor, the former spokesman for the National Security Council.