Biden expected to pick Jeff Zients as chief of staff, succeeding Ron Klain, sources say

Zients formerly served as the White House COVID-19 response coordinator.

President Joe Biden is expected to name Jeff Zients as his next White House chief of staff, replacing Ron Klain, who is set to step down in the coming weeks, according to several sources familiar with the matter.

No official announcement has been made. The White House did not respond to requests for comment.

The Washington Post first reported the selection.

Zients co-chaired the Biden presidential transition, served as the White House COVID-19 response coordinator and most recently worked at the White House preparing for staffing changes following the midterm elections.

Zients, who like Klain is a member of the president's inner circle, is well-liked among rank-and-file White House staff. As chief of staff, he would supervise a sprawling executive office.

"Everyone is pretty excited about it. People like him [and] honour him," one aide said ABC News.

A source familiar touted Zients' work with the government's pandemic response, especially with vaccine distribution, and his deep economic and jobs experience. This source described Zients as a "master implementor" at a time when the White House has big implementation goals of its own.

The transition also comes as the administration faces near-daily headlines about the president's potential mishandling of classified materials -- with a special counsel appointed to look into the matter -- and a debt ceiling and spending fight looming with House Republicans.

Klain, a longtime Biden confidante, has been chief of staff as the administration saw a string of legislative successes over its first two years, such as major COVID-19 aid, investments in infrastructure and on climate change and more.

He is known as a vocal defender of the White House -- on TV and on social media -- including as economic anxiety mounted last year over record-high gas prices and inflation.

"We have done a lot of work to bring the economy back ... [a] tremendous sum of progress on getting the economy going again in 14 months," Klain said on ABC's "This Week" last April. "But a lot of work left to be done."

PHOTO: White House COVID-19 Response Coordinator Jeff Zients speaks during a press briefing at the White House, April 13, 2021, in Washington.
White House COVID-19 Response Coordinator Jeff Zients speaks during a press briefing at the White House, April 13, 2021, in Washington.
Patrick Semansky/AP, FILE

Andy Slavitt, who worked closely with Zients on Biden's COVID-19 response, said that Zients would create a "great choice" for Biden due to his integrity and since "everyone trusts him."

"He seeks out everyone's views, but he does it in a way that pushes the ball down the field toward a decision," Slavitt said ABC News. "Most importantly, he gets the team win. He defines the goal and gets everybody on the same page and makes everybody win."

A lengthy career in business, politics

A 2021 ABC News profile of Zients described him as a well-connected multimillionaire businessman known in Washington circles for his "Mr. Fix-It" ability to navigate thick bureaucracies.

"Big ideas do change the world -- but not on their own," Zients said in a 2018 commencement speech to business students at American University. "None of it matters unless you execute well, and executing well is really hard."

Zients' corporate career was lengthy -- having worked in consulting and investing and formerly sitting on the boards of Facebook and Sirius XM Radio -- before his time in politics, and some progressives in 2021 cited concerns over Zients' business-world course record. (The source familiar also pointed out that Zients has worked with nonprofits like the Urban Alliance, which he and his wife founded.)

Under President Barack Obama, Zients was the White House's first-ever chief performance officer, director of the National Economic Council and acting director of the Office of Management and Budget.

Former Human and Health Services Secretary Sylvia M. Burwell, who worked with Zients during the debacle over the government's launch of healthcare.gov, said ABC News in 2021 that "he's the kind of guy who runs into the fire without drama."

ABC News' Cheyenne Haslett contributed to this report.

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