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Biden Picks Longtime Aide Ron Klain As White House Chief Of Staff


President-elect Joe Biden has announced Ron Klain as his pick for chief of staff. Klain is a longtime Democratic adviser and consultant and an alumnus of the Obama-Biden administration. This is Biden's first appointment to start filling out his own administration. And joining us with more is NPR political correspondent Asma Khalid.

Hey, Asma.


CHANG: Hi. OK, so Ron Klain is someone who's been in Biden's orbit for a while now. Remind us who he is.

KHALID: Yeah, you know, when Joe Biden became vice president in 2008, Ron Klain became his first chief of staff. But he has a long history with Joe Biden. You know, he worked as one of Biden's top aides when Biden was Senate Judiciary Committee chairman back in the '80s. He actually also was an adviser to Joe Biden on his two previous failed presidential bids in 1988 and 2008. But as you mentioned, you know, he is a longtime Democratic operative. He has worked in some capacity, I would say, for almost every recent Democratic presidential campaign. What I was struck by, though, Ailsa, is, you know, in a statement that he released about this specific appointment, he called it, quote, "the honor of a lifetime."

CHANG: And Klain has also had experience dealing with pandemics, right?

KHALID: That's right. He was the Ebola czar during the Obama administration. And during this current coronavirus pandemic, he has been a frequent critic of how the Trump administration has handled that virus. You know, Biden's decision to select him as chief of staff sends a pretty clear signal on where a Joe Biden White House's priorities would lie. COVID-19 was a big focus for Joe Biden all throughout the campaign. And I would say even in these early days of the transition period, it seems to be front and center in a lot of his transition planning.

CHANG: Well, can you tell us a little more about what Biden has said about why he chose Klain specifically for chief of staff?

KHALID: Sure. You know, he called him invaluable and highlighted his work both on the Ebola crisis as well as the economic recovery. You know, in addition to inheriting a public health crisis, the Biden team is rather acutely aware that they're going to need to deal with a recession. And I actually spoke to Ron Klain about this some months ago. You know, he was telling me how he felt that Biden's experience with the 2009 Recovery Act would help him with a shaky economy under the current situation in terms of both, you know, doling out stimulus funds - we talked about accountability and transparency and lessons learned from that 2009 experience. And I should mention that, you know, Ron was the chief of staff to Joe Biden at that time period, so he helped Biden steer the economy through what was, you know, largely seen as, perhaps, one of the worst economic downturns the country had seen in recent years.

CHANG: Yeah. Well, this is Biden's first appointment, so what do you think this pick of Ron Klain says about how Biden hopes to start his presidency?

KHALID: Well, chief of staff is generally seen as one of the most prestigious appointments within the White House. And so I would say, you know, this pick gives us a window into sort of two main priorities that we can anticipate maybe seeing a bit more of for Joe Biden. One, again, is the administration or the soon-to-be, I should say, administration, the president-elect's vision within his White House of the coronavirus and the focus that he intends to put on the pandemic. But also, to me, this signifies a return to the past. You know, Ron Klain is a longtime Washington operative. He has a lot of experience, and it signifies that Biden is looking to put people with a lot of experience and to bring some sort of, like, normalcy and less chaos into the White House.

CHANG: That is NPR political correspondent Asma Khalid.

Thank you so much.

KHALID: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Asma Khalid is a White House correspondent for NPR. She also co-hosts The NPR Politics Podcast.