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Ron Klain Exits the White House Stage Left

January 26, 2023
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Chief of staff Ron Klain is leaving the White House after President Joe Biden’s Feb. 7 State of the Union address. Much of the coverage frames his as a victorious exit, saying Mr. Klain departs with Mr. Biden having regained momentum after Democrats escaped a midterm shellacking.

Other recent chiefs have served longer than Mr. Klain’s 25 months. Denis McDonoughserved four years for Barack Obama, and Andrew Card worked five years and three months for George W. Bush. Still, Mr. Klain has been a consequential chief in important respects.

He’s run a tight ship. The West Wing hasn’t leaked. There’s little evidence of staff infighting. He focused Team Biden’s agenda, kept the mostly compliant press corps off its back, and convinced the Democratic Party’s troublesome congressional left wing to remain submissive. 

Mr. Klain steered Mr. Biden away from tough media questions and, when necessary, dumped bad news to draw attention from more dangerous controversies. Friday’s release of December’s record border apprehension numbers distracted from the discovery of yet more classified documents in unsecure locations used by Mr. Biden.

During Mr. Klain’s tenure, the Biden presidency’s legislative achievements have been impressive, given a closely divided Congress—though the idea that they put Mr. Biden up there with Franklin D. Roosevelt or Lyndon B. Johnson is laughable. LBJ signed the Civil Rights Act, Voting Rights Act, Clean Air Act of 1963, Medicare, Medicaid, Head Start, Pell Grants and more. Whether you like them or not, these are far more sweeping than Mr. Biden’s American Rescue Plan and Inflation Reduction Act. Despite costing trillions, they’re bills about which voters know little.

Mr. Klain took on multiple roles in addition to the normal chief’s duties. He was the unofficial communications head, working the press harder than any chief of staff since Ronald Reagan’s James Baker. Mr. Klain was Mr. Biden’s political director, marshaling resources to help beleaguered Democratic officeholders. He was the social-media maven, tweeting endlessly. He was also the legislative liaison. Though he mishandled Sens. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, Mr. Klain spoke frequently not only with congressional leaders but many rank-and-file legislators—as long as they had a D beside their names.

Therein lies one of Mr. Klain’s dubious legacies. He was highly political and significantly more liberal than his boss. Mr. Klain knows it’s wise to say he’s for bipartisan cooperation, but he rarely does it. As a result, the White House has been hard-edged even when it served no good purpose. 

Take Monday’s press briefing, where the White House press secretary said, “House Republicans are using their narrow majority to force the American people to pay higher gas prices.” Apparently high gasoline prices, which Mr. Klain obsesses on, are no longer the fault of Vladimir Putin, who at least has some connection to the issue. Blame Speaker Kevin McCarthy. Presumably the chief of staff green-lit this silly, counterproductive attack, worthy of a low-ranking congressional communications aide.

Chief of staff Ron Klain is leaving the White House after President Joe Biden’s Feb. 7 State of the Union address. Much of the coverage frames his as a victorious exit, saying Mr. Klain departs with Mr. Biden having regained momentum after Democrats escaped a midterm shellacking.

Other recent chiefs have served longer than Mr. Klain’s 25 months. Denis McDonoughserved four years for Barack Obama, and Andrew Card worked five years and three months for George W. Bush. Still, Mr. Klain has been a consequential chief in important respects.

He’s run a tight ship. The West Wing hasn’t leaked. There’s little evidence of staff infighting. He focused Team Biden’s agenda, kept the mostly compliant press corps off its back, and convinced the Democratic Party’s troublesome congressional left wing to remain submissive. 

Read More at the WSJ

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