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President-elect Biden picks longtime aide Ron Klain as chief of staff

Biden has been focused on building a team that will enter the White House with him on Inauguration Day.
Image: Rob Klain Joe Biden
Ron Klain and Vice President Joe Biden during a meeting about the Ebola virus at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in Washington on Nov. 13, 2014.Mark Wilson / Getty Images file

President-elect Joe Biden named Ron Klain, a veteran of Capitol Hill, to be his White House chief of staff, the transition said in a news release.

Klain, 59, is a longtime Democratic operative who has strong ties to Biden, largely as his chief of staff during Biden's first years as vice president. He also coordinated the Obama administration's response to the Ebola outbreak, giving him both familiarity with Biden and important credentials as the Covid-19 response will consume Biden's opening months.

"Ron has been invaluable to me over the many years that we have worked together, including as we rescued the American economy from one of the worst downturns in our history in 2009 and later overcame a daunting public health emergency in 2014," Biden said in a statement. "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."

Biden's choice of Klain puts a veteran Washington insider with experience confronting a global health crisis at the helm of the president-elect's West Wing. But it's just the first of many senior hires to come, with transition officials saying a larger batch of as many as 10 to 12 will come next week.

Klain also worked with Biden from 1989 to 1992 as chief counsel of the Senate Judiciary Committee during Biden's tenure as chair. Before that, he was a policy adviser on the Judiciary Committee staff from 1986 to 1987. Klain also worked as an adviser on Biden's unsuccessful 1988 and 2008 presidential campaigns.

The appointment was first reported by The New York Times.

Since he was projected as the winner of the presidential race, Biden has been focused on building a team that will enter the White House with him on Inauguration Day as he looks to fill several thousand jobs in his administration, people familiar with the process said.

About 200 positions would be filled immediately in the White House and at some key government agencies. Once that's complete, sources said, Biden will turn to building out his Cabinet.

As Biden huddles virtually with advisers this week, a focus has been carving out roles for a circle of trusted aides, including those from his hard-fought campaign.

They include Steve Ricchetti, who also served as chief of staff in Biden's vice presidential office and was one of the chief architects of his 2020 campaign, and Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-La., who joined Biden's campaign on day one as a national co-chairman, is also in line for a top position.

Ricchetti has been in the trenches with Biden every day since he joined Biden's office in 2012, becoming his chief of staff the following year and seeing him through the planning of a potential 2016 campaign and then the 2020 effort. "Steve is really good at the politics that Biden is going to need to deal with," a source said.

Biden allies see Richmond as best suited to be a liaison between the White House and Capitol Hill and federal agencies, with a particular focus on Biden's "Lift Every Voice" agenda for Black Americans.

Jen O'Malley Dillon, who took over as Biden's campaign manager in March, may also get an "offer she can't refuse" to join the White House, a senior official said. O'Malley Dillon, who had told friends and allies that she expected her time with Biden to end with the campaign, is being encouraged to stay on to help maintain discipline in operations and decision-making.

The final alignment, however, isn't yet certain, aides said. The transition team's effort to fill roles and make major decisions has been described as "deliberative." There is still no one in the top communications roles, but campaign spokespeople Kate Bedingfield and Symone Sanders are seen as the top contenders.

Klain's appointment has been seen as the surest thing since well before Biden's victory.

"Ron is uniquely suited to this moment," an official said, pointing to Klain's role as the Obama administration's Ebola czar and familiarity with the federal government over multiple administrations.

Rep Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., said: "I don't want to see him go into the Cabinet. He has too much talent to get in one pigeonhole. He needs to be in a position to go across Cabinet lines."

Amanda Golden contributed.