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Biden's chief of staff steps down

The vice president's top aide is leaving to head a private firm. Under Klain's tenure, Biden overcame a reputation for verbal gaffes and joined the White House inner circle.

January 05, 2011|By Peter Nicholas, Washington Bureau
  • Ron Klain, chief of staff to Vice President Joe Biden, is stepping down to become president of Case Holdings.
Ron Klain, chief of staff to Vice President Joe Biden, is stepping down to… (Andrew H. Walker, Getty…)

Reporting from Washington — The White House staff reshuffle continued Tuesday with Vice President Joe Biden announcing that his chief of staff is leaving, while speculation swirled that the president may appoint a well-connected Chicagoan to a top post.

Biden's chief of staff, Ron Klain, is resigning to become president of Case Holdings, the holding company of AOL cofounder Steve Case. Over the last two years, Klain helped position Biden as an influential figure in the White House while assisting in the confirmation of a pair of Supreme Court nominees: Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.

His departure surprised even some members of Biden's staff. Klain had been mentioned as a possible candidate for President Obama's chief of staff, but the president may be opting for someone with a higher profile.

After Rahm Emanuel quit to run for mayor of Chicago, Obama appointed longtime aide Peter Rouse to the chief of staff job on an interim basis.

Now, Obama is considering William Daley for a senior position, possibly chief of staff. Daley is the brother of outgoing Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley, and he served as Commerce secretary under President Clinton.

As Biden's top aide, Klain had a tough assignment. Obama and Biden had little in the way of a personal relationship when they took office. And Biden's penchant for gaffes annoyed a White House staff that prized discretion.

From Biden's standpoint, two positive developments played out under Klain's tenure.

After internal meetings that were devoted to Biden, White House aides are less likely to recoil when the vice president wanders off message. And Biden has been allowed into the inner circle, spending hours a day in meetings with Obama.

Klain came to the job after making a mark in popular culture. A chief of staff to former Vice President Al Gore, Klain was portrayed by Kevin Spacey in the HBO movie "Recount," the story of the disputed 2000 presidential race between Gore and George W. Bush.

"The most important thing a chief of staff can do for a vice president is to be a serious and respected player within the president's staff," said Roy Neel, who like Klain was a chief of staff to Gore. "The vice president lives and dies according to the deference that he gets from the president and the president's staff. And having someone who comes with the stature and experience of Ron is half the game right there."

Klain's tenure is shorter than those of some predecessors, longer than others. Gore had four different staff chiefs in eight years. Vice President Dick Cheney had two over the same time span.

Experts on the vice presidency rated the Biden-Klain partnership a productive one.

"Biden is one of 47 people in our history to get to this second office. So he has to have had something pretty significant going for him to achieve what he's achieved in life," said Joel K. Goldstein, author of "The Modern American Vice Presidency: The Transformation of a Political Institution."

"So, you maximize his strengths and try to deal with his weaknesses, rather than try to reform him," Goldstein said. "Klain has probably been very successful in finding ways of showing that Biden could really make a contribution."

peter.nicholas@latimes.com

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