Ron Klain is planning to step down as White House chief of staff in the next few weeks, people familiar with the matter said on Saturday, a move that would mark the biggest shake-up in Joe Biden’s inner circle of advisers since the start of his presidency.
Klain’s decision to leave the White House comes after he oversaw Biden’s inauguration in the tumultuous aftermath of the January 6 attack on the US Capitol, as well as the country’s response to the pandemic and Russia’s war in Ukraine.
The chief of staff has also steered the administration through high-stakes negotiations with Capitol Hill on Biden’s sweeping legislative agenda, including a series of large-scale economic packages and the confirmation of Ketanji Brown Jackson as the first black woman to sit on the Supreme Court.
Klain’s departure is not expected to occur before February 7, when Biden will deliver his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress. A precise date has not been finalised, but Biden is already considering possible successors, according to the people familiar with his plans.
The White House declined to comment. To celebrate the two-year anniversary of Biden’s presidency on Friday, Klain tweeted: “Two hard years. So much to be done. But so much progress”.
Klain’s departure, if confirmed, would deprive Biden, 80, of one of his closest longtime aides. Klain had also worked for Biden when he was vice-president under Barack Obama.
Biden is gearing up for the likely launch of his re-election campaign in 2024, after Democrats performed better than expected in the 2022. midterm elections. Rebounding approval ratings have also quieted calls from some within the party for Biden to step aside because of his age.
But the White House has been recently rocked by the appointment of a special counsel at the justice department to investigate the handling of classified material at Biden’s private office and his main Delaware residence, which has cast an unexpected cloud over the administration.
The New York Times first reported that Klain would depart in the coming weeks, naming Jeff Zients, the former White House pandemic co-ordinator, Anita Dunn, a top White House political strategist, and Steve Ricchetti, a longtime Biden adviser, as possible replacements.
Klain’s exit from the White House had been widely expected, given the gruelling nature of the chief of staff job at the start of a new presidency. Reince Priebus, Donald Trump’s first chief of staff, served from January 2017 until July of that year. Rahm Emanuel, Obama’s first chief of staff, served for little more than a year and a half. However, Klain did not outlast Andy Card, who served as George W Bush’s first chief of staff from 2001 to 2006.
As well as steering the White House through Biden’s potential campaign for a second term, the next chief of staff will have to manage a tougher relationship with Republicans in Congress after they regained the majority in the House of Representatives.
In particular, the president will have to reach a deal with lawmakers to raise the US borrowing limit over the coming months in order to avoid the country’s first-ever debt default. Republicans are demanding deep spending cuts in exchange for increasing the $31.4tn debt ceiling — a request that the White House has already rejected.