Subscribe to Here’s the Deal, our politics
newsletter for analysis you won’t find anywhere else.
Thank you. Please check your inbox to confirm.
Leave your feedback
As President Biden enters his third year in office, there's a change coming at the top of his leadership team. White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain will leave his post in the coming weeks. It comes as the president prepares for the State of the Union Address and deals with questions about his handling of classified material. White House Correspondent Laura Barrón-López reports.
As President Biden enters his third year in office, there's a change coming at the top of his leadership team.
White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain will leave his post in the coming weeks. The departure comes as the president prepares to deliver the State of the Union address and deals with continued questions about his handling of classified material.
Our White House correspondent, Laura Barrón-López, is here with the details.
It's good to see you, as always.
Good to be here, yes.
So Ron Klain is the longest-serving first chief of staff for any Democratic president. Why is he leaving now? And what does it mean for the White House?
Well, essentially, it's a clean exit for Ron Klain right now, the classified documents scandal aside, because of the fact that it's a two-year marker.
He did have a number of successes that a lot of Democrats credit him for, including the infrastructure law being passed, as well as a lot of other Democratic priorities, including prescription drug reform. Sources confirmed to "NewsHour" that he is indeed stepping down in the coming weeks and is going to be potentially replaced by Jeffrey Zients as chief of staff.
And so Klain for a while had some criticism from Democrats. During the fall of 2021, he dealt with their frustrations about the inability to at first pass some of those big priorities that President Biden had, but, ultimately, they all came together, saw those get passed, saw productive midterms, and so he's leaving on a high note, according to a lot of Democrats.
So, tell us about Jeff Zients, what skills, what backgrounds he brings to the job.
Jeffrey Zients is the former coronavirus czar. He coordinated the entire COVID response for President Biden.
And he also worked under the Obama administration, is really well-known for fixing the Affordable Care Act Web site in 2013, when it was having all those issues.
And I spoke to Andy Slavitt today, who worked with Zients on the coronavirus response team. And he said that Zients is really trusted within the Biden administration, that the president himself feels comfortable around him, and that he is all focused on execution and really immersing himself in the details of day-to-day implementation and trying to fix any problems that could come along with implementing a lot of these big laws that the president saw passed.
There has not been a lot of turnover in this White House.
What comes next, especially as President Biden, as we understand it, is preparing to announce the reelection campaign?
So, Jeffrey Zients comes in, there is, as you noted, the potential presidential reelection campaign for President Biden, although the president also has top brass there like Anita Dunn, who is expected to oversee a lot of the political elements of that.
Zients, though, comes in as House Republicans are expected to launch all of these investigations into the president and to his family. A lot of the Democrats I spoke to and people who have worked with Zients said that they're really confident in his ability to handle that.
And, again, they credit him with working long hours with the team trying to, whether it's sell and implement the infrastructure law, prescription drug reform, things like that. They think that he will be able to shepherd those through to the finish line and full implementation, while also handling those investigations.
Let's talk about the documents investigation. The FBI over the weekend found six more classified items at President Biden's home in Delaware.
How does that change, if at all, the facts of the case.
So, right now, the facts of the case ultimately haven't changed, even though, as you noted, there was this search of Biden — of President Biden's Wilmington home.
And, today, Ian Sams, the spokesman for the Counsel's Office, said that this was a — quote — "unprecedented offer" that the president's private attorneys made to the DOJ by allowing them to go into the president's private home, the sitting president's private home, and search it.
But I spoke to Mark Zaid, a national security attorney, who said that, ultimately, the facts legally still haven't changed.
Mark Zaid, National Security Attorney:
So we shouldn't mistake at all the seriousness of the situation whenever classified information is mishandled.
I don't have any doubt that this appears to be a violation of the law. The issue or question is, would it be prosecuted? And these cases just typically are not prosecuted even for the normal person the street, so to speak, because if they have cooperated, and if there's been no compromise, it would be handled administratively.
And so when Zaid said there that these cases typically aren't prosecuted, he's talking about when classified documents end up where they're not supposed to end up, which often happens with former presidents or former top-level officials.
And so it really wasn't surprising to him that documents like this were even found in Biden's home, as well as Penn Biden Center, and the same with former President Trump, but that, ultimately, the cases diverge after that, when it comes to how the cooperation, or lack of cooperation, in President Trump's case, happened with the Justice Department.
We spoke with the new House Oversight chairman, Republican Chairman James Comer, on this program on Friday, and he made clear that he's going to investigate the Biden White House on this issue and a number of different topics.
How is the White House preparing to handle that?
The White House responded today to oversight Chairman Comer in a letter and they said that they don't have any of the documents on hand anymore, because they have all been handed over to the Justice Department. And so they told him that they can't give him those documents.
They also said that they're willing to work with — quote — "legitimate oversight questions" from the congressman, but that they're still reviewing his other requests.
I also just wanted to note, Geoff, that when you're looking at the two cases of former President Trump and President Biden, Mark Zaid, the national security attorney, said that, ultimately, they could impact each other, because it's Attorney General Merrick Garland who has to decide this.
And here's what he had to say about that.
The reality is, neither case should impact the other. But that's just not practical or realistic.
The fiasco with the Biden administration, and particularly, one, that this exists, and, two, how it was handled, without a doubt undermines Attorney General Garland's ability to be able to make a decision that would enable at least the appearance of a fair and balanced Justice going forward.
So, even though the cases are very different, ultimately, Mark Zaid said that, because of — the steady trickle could impact the decision that Attorney General Garland makes.
Laura Barrón-López, thanks, as always, for that great reporting.
Watch the Full Episode
Geoff Bennett serves as co-anchor of PBS NewsHour. He also serves as an NBC News and MSNBC political contributor.
Laura Barrón-López is the White House Correspondent for the PBS NewsHour, where she covers the Biden administration for the nightly news broadcast. She is also a CNN political analyst.
Matt Loffman is the PBS NewsHour's Deputy Senior Politics Producer
Support Provided By: