White House Chief of Staff

Assistant to the President and Chief of Staff
US-WhiteHouse-Logo.svg
Ron Klain crop.jpg
Incumbent
Ron Klain

since January 20, 2021
Executive Office of the President
White House Office
Reports to President of the United States
Appointer President of the United States
Formation 1946 (Assistant to the President)
1961 (White House Chief of Staff)
First holder John R. Steelman
Website www.whitehouse.gov

The White House Chief of Staff position is the successor to the earlier role of the Secretary to the President of the United States. The role was formalized as the Assistant to the President in 1946 and acquired its current title in 1961. The current official title is Assistant to the President and Chief of Staff.

The Chief of Staff is a political appointee of the President of the United States who does not require Senate confirmation, and who serves at the pleasure of the President. While not a legally required role, all presidents since Harry S. Truman have appointed a Chief of Staff; with the exception of John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson, whose equivalent appointments were to the office of White House appointments secretary, a role that would later be subsumed into that of Chief of Staff.

In the administration of Joe Biden, the current Chief of Staff is Ron Klain, who succeeded Mark Meadows on January 20, 2021. The Chief of Staff is the most senior political appointee in the White House, and holds Yankee White security clearance. This is the highest level of clearance in the United States government, allowing the Chief of Staff access to highly classified national security issues. The position is widely recognized as one of great power and influence, owing to daily contact with the President of the United States and control of the Executive Office of the President of the United States.

History

The duties and responsibilities of the White House chief of staff vary from one administration to another and, in fact, there is no legal requirement that the president even fill the position. However, since at least 1979, all presidents have found the need for a chief of staff, who typically oversees the actions of the White House staff, manages the president's daily schedule, and decides who is allowed to meet with the president. Due to these core duties, the chief of staff has at various times been labeled "the president's gatekeeper".

Chief of Staff Jack Watson (1980–1981) meets with President Jimmy Carter in the Oval Office (November 21, 1977).

Originally, the duties now performed by the chief of staff belonged to the president's private secretary and were fulfilled by crucial confidantes and policy advisers such as George B. Cortelyou, Joseph Tumulty, and Louis McHenry Howe to presidents Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, and Franklin Roosevelt, respectively.[1] The private secretary served as the president's de facto chief aide, in a role that combined personal and professional assignments of highly delicate and demanding natures, requiring great skill and utmost discretion.[2] The job of gatekeeper and overseeing the president's schedule was separately delegated to the appointments secretary, as with aide Edwin "Pa" Watson.

From 1933 to 1939, as he greatly expanded the scope of the federal government's policies and powers in response to the Great Depression, President Roosevelt relied on his famous 'Brain Trust' of top advisers. Although working directly for the president, they were often appointed to vacant positions in federal agencies and departments, whence they drew their salaries since the White House lacked statutory or budgetary authority to create staff positions. It was not until 1939, during Roosevelt's second term in office, that the foundations of the modern White House staff were created using a formal structure. Roosevelt was able to persuade Congress to approve the creation of the Executive Office of the President, which would report directly to the president. During World War II, Roosevelt created the position of "Chief of Staff to the Commander-in-Chief" for his principal military adviser, Fleet Admiral William D. Leahy.

In 1946, in response to the rapid growth of the U.S. government's executive branch, the position of "Assistant to the President of the United States" was established. Charged with the affairs of the White House, it was the immediate predecessor to the modern chief of staff. It was in 1953, under Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower, that the president's preeminent assistant was designated the "White House Chief of Staff".

Assistant to the president became a rank generally shared by the chief of staff along with the other most senior presidential aides such as the White House counsel, the White House press secretary, and others. This new system did not catch on immediately however. Presidents Kennedy and Johnson still relied on their appointments secretaries instead, and it was not until the Nixon administration that the chief of staff took over maintenance of the President's schedule. This concentration of power in the Nixon and Ford White House (whose last chief of staff was Dick Cheney) led presidential candidate Jimmy Carter to campaign in 1976 with the promise that he would not appoint a chief of staff. And indeed, for the first two and a half years of his presidency, he appointed no one to the post.[3][4]

The average tenure for a White House chief of staff is a little more than 18 months.[5] The inaugural chief of staff, John R. Steelman, under Harry S. Truman, was also the last to be a president's only chief of staff, not counting Kenneth O'Donnell during John F. Kennedy's 34 months in office. Andrew Card and Denis McDonough each served at least one entire presidential term of office under presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, respectively.

Many White House chiefs of staff are former politicians, and continue their political careers after their stint in the White House. Lyndon Johnson's chief of staff W. Marvin Watson became the Postmaster General later in the term. Richard Nixon's chief of staff Alexander Haig, a U.S. Army officer with his capstone military position being CINCUSEUCOM/SACEUR, later became Secretary of State under Ronald Reagan. Cheney later became a congressman for Wyoming, Secretary of Defense under George H. W. Bush and vice president in the George W. Bush administration. Donald Rumsfeld was another chief of staff for Ford and subsequently served as secretary of defense both in the Ford administration and decades later in the George W. Bush administration. Rahm Emanuel left a senior leadership position in the House of Representatives to become Barack Obama's first chief of staff and subsequently became Mayor of Chicago. Jack Lew, President Obama's fourth chief of staff, was later appointed secretary of the treasury.

Role

President George H. W. Bush sits at his desk in the Oval Office Study and talks on the telephone regarding Operation Just Cause, as Chief of Staff John Sununu and National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft stand nearby (December 20, 1989).
Chief of Staff Reince Priebus looks into the Oval Office as President Donald Trump reads over his notes (March 10, 2017).

Chris Whipple, author of The Gatekeepers: How the White House Chiefs of Staff Define Every Presidency, loosely describes the role of a White House chief of staff through his interview with former president Barack Obama: "During the last days of his presidency, Barack Obama observed: 'One of the things I've learned is that the big breakthroughs are typically the result of a lot of grunt work—just a whole lot of blocking and tackling.' Grunt work is what chiefs of staff do."[5]

The responsibilities of the chief of staff are both managerial and advisory and may include the following:

  • Selecting senior White House staffers and supervising their offices' activities;
  • Managing and designing the overall structure of the White House staff system;
  • Control the flow of people into the Oval Office;
  • Manage the flow of information to and decisions from the Resolute Desk (with the White House staff secretary);
  • Directing, managing and overseeing all policy development
  • Protecting the political interests of the president;
  • Negotiating legislation and appropriating funds with United States Congress leaders, Cabinet secretaries, and extra-governmental political groups to implement the president's agenda; and
  • Advise on any and usually various issues set by the president.[5]

These responsibilities have recently extended to firing of senior staff members. In the case of Omarosa Manigault Newman, who published a tape she alleged was made in the Situation Room of her firing by Chief of Staff John Kelly, the chief of staff said that his decision for her departure was non-negotiable and that "the staff and everyone on the staff works for me and not the president."[6]

Richard Nixon's first chief of staff, H. R. Haldeman, garnered a reputation in Washington for the iron hand he wielded in the position—famously referring to himself as "the president's son-of-a-bitch", he was a rigid gatekeeper who would frequently meet with administration officials in place of the president, and then report himself to Nixon on the officials' talking points. Journalist Bob Woodward, in his books All the President's Men and The Secret Man, wrote that many of his sources, including the famous Deep Throat, displayed a genuine fear of Haldeman.[7][8]

List of White House chiefs of staff

No. Portrait Chief of Staff Took office Left office Time in office Party President
1
John Steelman
Steelman, JohnJohn Steelman
(1900–1999)
December 12, 1946 January 20, 1953 6 years, 39 days Democratic Truman, HarryHarry S Truman (Dem)
(1945 – 1953)
2
Sherman Adams
Adams, ShermanSherman Adams
(1899–1986)
January 20, 1953 October 7, 1958 5 years, 260 days Republican Eisenhower, DwightDwight D. Eisenhower (Rep)
(1953 – 1961)
3
Wilton Persons
Persons, WiltonWilton Persons
(1896–1977)
October 7, 1958 January 20, 1961 2 years, 105 days Republican Eisenhower, DwightDwight D. Eisenhower (Rep)
(1953 – 1961)
Kenneth O'Donnell
O'Donnell, KennethKenneth O'Donnell
(1924–1977)
[a]
January 20, 1961 November 22, 1963 2 years, 306 days Democratic Kennedy, JohnJohn F. Kennedy (Dem)
(1961 – 1963)
Marvin Watson
Watson, MarvinMarvin Watson
(1924–2017)
[a]
February 1, 1965 April 26, 1968 3 years, 85 days Democratic Johnson, LyndonLyndon B. Johnson (Dem)
(1963 – 1969)
James R. Jones
Jones, JamesJames R. Jones
(born 1939)
[a]
April 26, 1968 January 20, 1969 269 days Democratic Johnson, LyndonLyndon B. Johnson (Dem)
(1963 – 1969)
4
H. R. Haldeman
Haldeman, HarryH. R. Haldeman
(1926–1993)
January 20, 1969 April 30, 1973 4 years, 100 days Republican Nixon, RichardRichard Nixon (Rep)
(1969 – 1974)
Vacant
April 30, 1973 – May 4, 1973 (4 days)
5
Alexander Haig
Haig, AlexanderAlexander Haig
(1924–2010)
May 4, 1973 September 21, 1974 1 year, 140 days Republican Nixon, RichardRichard Nixon (Rep)
(1969 – 1974)
Gerald Ford (Rep)
(1974 – 1977)
6
Donald Rumsfeld
Rumsfeld, DonaldDonald Rumsfeld
(born 1932)
September 21, 1974 November 20, 1975 1 year, 60 days Republican Ford, GeraldGerald Ford (Rep)
(1974 – 1977)
7
Dick Cheney
Cheney, DickDick Cheney
(born 1941)
November 20, 1975 January 20, 1977 1 year, 61 days Republican Ford, GeraldGerald Ford (Rep)
(1974 – 1977)
Vacant
January 20, 1977 – July 18, 1979 (2 years, 179 days)
8
Hamilton Jordan
Jordan, HamiltonHamilton Jordan
(1944–2008)
July 18, 1979 June 11, 1980 329 days Democratic Carter, JimmyJimmy Carter (Dem)
(1977 – 1981)
9
Jack Watson
Watson, JackJack Watson
(born 1938)
June 11, 1980 January 20, 1981 223 days Democratic Carter, JimmyJimmy Carter (Dem)
(1977 – 1981)
10
James Baker
Baker, JamesJames Baker
(born 1930)
January 20, 1981 February 4, 1985 4 years, 15 days Republican Reagan, RonaldRonald Reagan (Rep)
(1981 – 1989)
11
Donald Regan
Regan, DonaldDonald Regan
(1918–2003)
February 4, 1985 February 27, 1987 2 years, 23 days Republican Reagan, RonaldRonald Reagan (Rep)
(1981 – 1989)
12
Howard Baker
Baker, HowardHoward Baker
(1925–2014)
February 27, 1987 July 1, 1988 1 year, 125 days Republican Reagan, RonaldRonald Reagan (Rep)
(1981 – 1989)
13
Kenneth Duberstein
Duberstein, KennethKenneth Duberstein
(born 1944)
July 1, 1988 January 20, 1989 203 days Republican Reagan, RonaldRonald Reagan (Rep)
(1981 – 1989)
14
John Sununu
Sununu, JohnJohn Sununu
(born 1939)
January 20, 1989 December 16, 1991 2 years, 330 days Republican Bush, GeorgeGeorge H. W. Bush (Rep)
(1989 – 1993)
15
Samuel Skinner
Skinner, SamuelSamuel Skinner
(born 1938)
December 16, 1991 August 23, 1992 251 days Republican Bush, GeorgeGeorge H. W. Bush (Rep)
(1989 – 1993)
16
James Baker
Baker, JamesJames Baker
(born 1930)
August 23, 1992 January 20, 1993 150 days Republican Bush, GeorgeGeorge H. W. Bush (Rep)
(1989 – 1993)
17
Mack McLarty
McLarty, MackMack McLarty
(born 1946)
January 20, 1993 July 17, 1994 1 year, 178 days Democratic Clinton, BillBill Clinton (Dem)
(1993 – 2001)
18
Leon Panetta
Panetta, LeonLeon Panetta
(born 1938)
July 17, 1994 January 20, 1997 2 years, 187 days Democratic Clinton, BillBill Clinton (Dem)
(1993 – 2001)
19
Erskine Bowles
Bowles, ErskineErskine Bowles
(born 1945)
January 20, 1997 October 20, 1998 1 year, 273 days Democratic Clinton, BillBill Clinton (Dem)
(1993 – 2001)
20
John Podesta
Podesta, JohnJohn Podesta
(born 1949)
October 20, 1998 January 20, 2001 2 years, 92 days Democratic Clinton, BillBill Clinton (Dem)
(1993 – 2001)
21
Andrew Card
Card, AndrewAndrew Card
(born 1947)
January 20, 2001 April 14, 2006 5 years, 84 days Republican Bush, GeorgeGeorge W. Bush (Rep)
(2001 – 2009)
22
Joshua Bolten
Bolten, JoshuaJoshua Bolten
(born 1954)
April 14, 2006 January 20, 2009 2 years, 281 days Republican Bush, GeorgeGeorge W. Bush (Rep)
(2001 – 2009)
23
Rahm Emanuel
Emanuel, RahmRahm Emanuel
(born 1959)
January 20, 2009 October 1, 2010 1 year, 254 days Democratic Obama, BarackBarack Obama (Dem)
(2009 – 2017)
Pete Rouse
Rouse, PetePete Rouse
(born 1946)
Acting
[b]
October 1, 2010 January 13, 2011 104 days Democratic Obama, BarackBarack Obama (Dem)
(2009 – 2017)
24
Bill Daley
Daley, WilliamBill Daley
(born 1948)
January 13, 2011 January 27, 2012 1 year, 14 days Democratic Obama, BarackBarack Obama (Dem)
(2009 – 2017)
25
Jack Lew
Lew, JackJack Lew
(born 1955)
January 27, 2012 January 20, 2013 359 days Democratic Obama, BarackBarack Obama (Dem)
(2009 – 2017)
26
Denis McDonough
McDonough, DenisDenis McDonough
(born 1969)
January 20, 2013 January 20, 2017 4 years, 0 days Democratic Obama, BarackBarack Obama (Dem)
(2009 – 2017)
27
Reince Priebus
Priebus, ReinceReince Priebus
(born 1972)
January 20, 2017 July 31, 2017 192 days Republican Trump, DonaldDonald Trump (Rep)
(2017 – 2021)
28
John F. Kelly
Kelly, JohnJohn F. Kelly
(born 1950)
July 31, 2017 January 2, 2019 1 year, 154 days Independent Trump, DonaldDonald Trump (Rep)
(2017 – 2021)
Mick Mulvaney
Mulvaney, MickMick Mulvaney
(born 1967)
Acting
January 2, 2019 March 31, 2020 1 year, 89 days Republican Trump, DonaldDonald Trump (Rep)
(2017 – 2021)
29
Mark Meadows
Meadows, MarkMark Meadows
(born 1959)
March 31, 2020 January 20, 2021 295 days Republican Trump, DonaldDonald Trump (Rep)
(2017 – 2021)
30
Ron Klain
Klain, RonRon Klain
(born 1961)
January 20, 2021 Incumbent 152 days Democratic Biden, JoeJoe Biden (Dem)
(since 2021)

See also

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