U.S. President-elect Joe Biden appointed top Democratic official Ron Klain as his chief of staff and assistant to the president on Wednesday.
Klain is one of Biden’s closest confidants and first worked for the Democrat in the late 1980s when he was a U.S. senator. He was in charge of the Barack Obama administration’s response to the Ebola health crisis in 2014, when Biden was vice-president.
A fierce critic of Republican President Donald Trump’s handling of the novel coronavirus pandemic, Klain was expected to be a key figure in Biden’s response to the health crisis.
Biden has begun building his administration since clinching enough electoral votes to win the Nov. 3 election. Trump, who has made unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud, has yet to concede and is pursuing legal challenges to try to overturn the results.
Biden has made combating the resurgent coronavirus, which has killed more than 239,000 people in the United States, his top priority as he looks toward taking office in January.
“Ron has been invaluable to me over the many years that we have worked together,” 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.”
Klain, 59, functioned as an outside adviser to Biden during the campaign, particularly concerning the coronavirus, and spoke almost daily with the candidate, Klain has said in media interviews.
‘Trusted and capable’ adviser
He served as Biden’s top aide in the White House before, when Biden was vice-president under Obama. He held the same job under vice-president Al Gore during the Clinton administration in the 1990s.
Gore called Klain “a trusted and capable” adviser.
“He was always highly informed and his advice was always grounded in exceptional command of the policy process, the merits of the arguments, and the political and justice context,” the former vice-president told Reuters.
Klain’s most recent stint in the White House with Biden came during the fallout from the 2008-2009 financial crisis, when Biden was charged by Obama with overseeing implementation of the $787-billion US Recovery Act to needy state and local governments.
Biden and Klain worked to ensure the money was directed to “shovel-ready” projects with a minimum of waste and fraud. At times, there were complaints from some states and cities that the funds were going out the door too slowly.
Biden said his office was trying to be methodical in getting the money to where it would be most effective.
After Klain left Biden’s office, Obama brought him back to manage the White House response to the Ebola threat, a move that was criticized by some because the Harvard Law School graduate was not a public health expert.
Led Ebola task force
Klain won praise from some public health experts, however, for his skill at manipulating the levers of government. He co-ordinated the U.S. response to the threat among the various agencies involved and focused on getting assistance to West Africa to help contain the epidemic, insisting on regular face-to-face meetings so he could identify problems quickly, he said in an interview with WIRED magazine earlier this year.
“The high-level lessons applicable today are, first and foremost, let the medical experts be the touchstone of the response — let them be the people who are formulating this strategy, let them be the spokespeople,” Klain told the magazine.
Overall, 11 people were treated in the United States for the virus and two died.
Klain drew upon the Ebola experience to advise Biden this year about the coronavirus outbreak. He recorded a viral video for the campaign during the first spike in COVID-19 cases, detailing what he felt were the Trump administration’s failures on the coronavirus with the assistance of a whiteboard.
Klain’s history with Biden dates back to Biden’s chairmanship of the Senate’s judiciary committee in the 1980s. In 1991, when the committee held the contentious Supreme Court confirmation hearing for Clarence Thomas, Klain, the committee’s top lawyer, was charged with investigating sexual harassment claims against Thomas made by Anita Hill.
Klain’s experience with confirmation processes — he also shepherded the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg onto the court during president Bill Clinton’s administration — is expected by Biden aides to be a help with a Senate that may stay under Republican control. Klain himself clerked on the court for Justice Byron White.
Klain said in a statement: “It’s the honour of a lifetime to serve president-elect Biden in this role, and I am humbled by his confidence. I look forward to helping him and the vice-president-elect [Kamala Harris] assemble a talented and diverse team to work in the White House.”