President Obama to name aide as chief of staff

19:36, Jan 25 2013
Denis McDonough
TRUSTED LOYALIST: New White House chief of staff Denis McDonough.

President Barack Obama will name longtime foreign policy aide Denis McDonough as his next White House chief of staff, tapping a trusted loyalist to help drive his second-term agenda as he unveils a major overhaul of senior staff.

Obama will announce the appointment of McDonough, who had been widely tipped to fill the vacancy created by Jack Lew's nomination as Treasury secretary, a White House official said.

McDonough, a deputy national security adviser, will take on what is a mostly behind-the-scenes job, but still considered one of Washington's most influential. The chief of staff acts as Oval Office gatekeeper and a key coordinator of domestic and foreign policymaking.

In more than half a dozen other high-level staff changes, Obama will also announce he is moving White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer to the job of senior adviser and replacing Pfeiffer with his deputy, Jennifer Palmieri.

Obama's choice of McDonough follows a pattern of picking close confidants and allies as he shuffles his inner circle for his second-term.

McDonough, 43, started out with Obama when he was a freshman US senator from Illinois and just beginning his rapid ascent on the national political scene.


McDonough, whose expertise is mostly in foreign policy, worked on Obama's 2008 presidential campaign and became a senior aide at the National Security Council when the president took office.

"Denis has played a key role in all of the major national security decisions - from ending the war in Iraq to winding down the war in Afghanistan, from our response to natural disasters in Haiti and Japan, to the repeal of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell,"' the White House official said.

There had been some concern within the administration that McDonough's lack of a deep domestic policy background might be a handicap in the chief of staff post when fiscal matters, gun control and immigration are shaping up as Obama's top priorities. Obama has also signaled a possible push in the fight against climate change.

But McDonough's experience as a congressional staffer and the close contacts he retains on Capitol Hill were seen as a plus. He served as foreign policy adviser to then-Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle and also was legislative director for then-Senator Ken Salazar, now Obama's Interior secretary.


The promotion of Palmieri, who was a staffer in President Bill Clinton's White House, marks one of the first second-term appointments of a woman for a senior job as Obama has faced criticism for giving his most recent top nominations to men.

Palmieri was also press secretary for the Democratic National Committee during the 2002 election cycle and served as press secretary for former Senator John Edward's 2004 presidential campaign.

Pfeiffer, a longtime close aide to Obama, helped shape the president's public relations strategy in his first term and in the 2012 re-election campaign, and is expected to remain a key tactician in his new post.

Another woman being named to a key post is Assistant Attorney General for National Security Lisa Monaco, who is being tapped to replace John Brennan as Obama's chief White House counter-terrorism adviser, pending his confirmation as CIA director.

Rob Nabors, White House director of legislative affairs and a key negotiator in last year's "fiscal cliff" talks with Congress, is being named deputy White House chief of staff for policy.

Tony Blinken, Vice President Joe Biden's national security adviser, will become one of Obama's deputy national security advisers.

McDonough's main competition for the chief of staff job was Ron Klain, former chief of staff to both Biden and the previous Democratic vice president, Al Gore.

The chief of staff job is a high-pressure one, and Obama's has been a through a series of them since taking office.

Rahm Emanuel, now mayor of Chicago, led Obama's White House in the first half of his first term during fights over the economic stimulus package and healthcare reform.

Bill Daley, a former Commerce secretary under Clinton, served as Obama's second chief of staff, after an interim filled by close aide Pete Rouse. Daley was not a part of Obama's campaign-connected inner circle, however, and left after a year in the job.

Lew took over from Daley, who returned to Illinois. A popular and low-key chief, Lew served as a deputy to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and as a budget director for Obama before taking his position in the West Wing.