For months, Joe Biden’s chief of staff Ron Klain has been telegraphing that he was planning to leave the White House—he was exhausted, wanted to spend more time with his family, etcetera, and he’d also managed to reclaim the narrative after a legislative flowering and the auspicious midterms. Of course, Biden famously abhors change and prefers insularity, so this had become one of the longest drawn-out personnel selection processes in recent political history, a hallmark of the president’s reputation for indecision.
But the appointment of Jeff Zients, a centimillionaire-ish former private equity executive and management consultant turned Obama-era public servant and Biden’s Covid czar, demonstrates that Biden has found his change through continuity. After all, Biden didn’t select an outside-the-Beltway type like Marty Walsh. He went with a Klain-esque process person: an operator, a master of organizational management. “Biden thinks Zients runs a good process, that’s one of the things he always thought about Ron,” said a former Biden official. “And Ron wanted to pick someone like Ron.” It’s helpful that Zients understands how the government works in dysfunction, as was the case during the shutdowns of the Obama years.
The cool-headed Zients isn’t known as a Biden person, per se, but the two formed a bond during the waning days of the Obama administration. Back then, as the director of the National Economic Council, Zients offered Biden personal advice about transitioning from the vice presidency to private life, a former official said. Zients’s counsel will be invaluable amid a shrinking economy and a Republican-controlled House that is looking to make Biden’s life a hellscape. And unlike Klain, a prodigious tweeter and inside player with a healthy interest in his own reputation management, Zients is less likely to have a public persona. Despite his business background, he’s known for being a savvy political operator, who is willing to sit down for one-on-one dinners to make deals happen.