Ron Klain clocks off
Two years after starting work as one of the most powerful chiefs of staff in modern American history, Ron Klain will be stepping down. The man some styled “Prime Minister Klain” in recognition of the latitude afforded to him by his octogenarian boss has embodied the Biden administration at its best and worst.
An inveterate tweeter, Klain personified the way in which Team Biden went from a successful social-media-skeptical presidential campaign to a very-online White House staff. His frequently updated feed has at least been a helpful peek into how the White House sees things — and how they want you to see things. Through these posts, Klain revealed a high-handed disregard for Americans’ economic woes when he called it a “high-class problem.” He built surprisingly strong relationships with his party’s progressives, typifying Biden’s leftward lurch in office. And he toed an uncompromisingly partisan line, contradicting Biden’s campaign-trail promise of unity.
But as he prepares to step out of the limelight, Klain won’t be worried about a few embarrassing tweets. Last year’s midterms were a vindication of the political course he and Biden charted: a ruthless focus on Republican shortcomings and a balancing act that just about kept the Democratic Party from breaking out into open civil war.
Klain (judging by the tweets) wants you to remember his two years at the heart of power as a time of historic significance that may even leave Biden remembered as a truly great president. The reality, of course, is a little less flattering. It involves Congress spending lots of money to worsen the inflation problem and divided Republicans allowing a weak president off the hook. You play the cards you are dealt, though, and Klain’s White House operation successfully exploited their opponents’ weaknesses to deliver an unpopular president a not-as-dreadful-as-expected set of midterm results.
Klain departs as legal and political clouds gather, presumably relieved that Biden’s classified documents mistakes will not be his problem. Jeff Zients, a management consultant (and bagel magnate) who served as Biden’s Covid response coordinator in 2021, will take over. Klain is a more political beast than Zients, whose corporate background means he is likely to be treated with suspicion by progressives. Congressional Progressive Caucus chair Pramila Jayapal said, “We are hopeful that he will have the same understanding of the need to work closely with progressives, to engage and energize our base and to protect our wins in a divided Congress.”
Zients, though, will simply have less reason to keep progressives onside than Klain. Without control of Congress, the legislative impetus of the last few years just isn’t there. Instead, Zients’s immediate future probably involves lots of conference calls with lawyers, as the White House fends off investigations from House Republicans and the Justice Department. Meanwhile, Ron Klain will be on a beach somewhere, resting up before cashing in on being the man who saved the Senate.
Another week, another set of documents at a Biden property. The FBI searched Joe Biden’s Delaware home on Friday and found a fourth set of classified documents. It is the third set to be uncovered at Biden’s residence. The other was found in the president’s at the Penn Biden Center at the University of Pennsylvania. (Charles Lipson dives into the murky story of that organization for our website.) The latest search was done “consensually,” as Biden’s defenders have been at pains to point out, but at the request of the Justice Department, which suggests it is ramping things up after a flat-footed initial response.
The more we learn, the worse it looks for Biden. Two Democratic senators, Joe Manchin and Tim Kaine, have said they support investigating Biden over the documents. But the president’s line shows no sign of softening. “I think you’re going to find there’s nothing there,” he said last week, adding that he has “no regrets.”
Nancy Pelosi is liberated and loving it, concludes Maureen Dowd in the New York Times after lunch with the former speaker at the Four Seasons: “I was expecting King Lear, howling at the storm, but I found Gene Kelly, singing in the rain.” How to explain the upbeat mood, especially so soon after the horrifying attack on her husband Paul at their San Francisco home? Dowd talks to Pelosi’s documentary-maker daughter Alexandra, who reveals the steps she has taken to deal with the psychological fallout of so traumatic an event. “Over Thanksgiving,” she reveals “she had priests coming, trying to have an exorcism of the house and having prayer services.”
What you should be reading today
Matthew Foldi: The IRS is coming for your fantasy football winnings
Freddy Gray: Face it, Donald Trump isn’t going anywhere
Gilbert T. Sewall: Why California’s rainstorm ‘disaster’ is a blessing
Gabriel T. Rubin, Wall Street Journal: Biggest pay raises went to black workers, young people and low-wage earners
Michael Brendan Dougherty, National Review: Buchanan retires his pen
Matthew Kaminski, Politico: America in decline? The world thinks again
President Biden job approval
Approve: 42.9 percent
Disapprove: 52.6 percent
Net approval: -9.7 (RCP average)
Should George Santos resign, according to New York voters
Yes: 59 percent
No: 20 percent (Siena)