White House preps for potential post-midterms staff turnover

The White House is bracing for a potential staffing turnover now that the midterm elections are in the rearview mirror, with some aides expected to depart in early 2023. 

The Biden administration so far has been remarkably stable compared to the Trump administration, with very few high-profile departures in its first two years. But that is likely to change as some officials prepare to move on, and others may be asked to transition to a potential 2024 reelection campaign. 

“We have made no secret of actively leading a diverse and wide effort to look for new talent from businesses, academia, labor and other sectors. And that’s just smart, prudent planning for the future,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Monday when asked if the White House was prepared for possible staff turnover. “But I don’t have any personnel announcements to make at this time.”

Jean-Pierre said Biden is “incredibly confident in his team here and is proud of the historic work that has been done these first two years,” highlighting the passage of an infrastructure law, legislation to fund computer chip manufacturing, a bipartisan gun safety bill and two sweeping Democratic bills passed via reconciliation that included key provisions on health insurance and climate change.

Some Democratic strategists believed there would have been calls for staffing changes at the White House had Democrats been wiped out in the midterms. But that didn’t come to pass, as the party will again hold a narrow Senate majority and a more narrow minority in the House than expected.

Instead, the midterms served as a galvanizing moment for Biden and his team that what they’re doing seems to be working for voters. Any changes to staff are likely to come from those who have been in the White House for two full years on top of any time spent on the 2020 campaign and are ready to move on.

“I just think we’ve reached the two year mark, there’s going to be change,” Jim Kessler, a co-founder of the centrist think tank Third Way, said in a recent interview.

One area where staff turnover is expected is on Biden’s economic team. Brian Deese, the director of the National Economic Council, will reportedly leave his role in the coming months, and Cecilia Rouse is scheduled to return to Princeton University in the spring after taking leave to serve as chairwoman of the Council of Economic Advisers.

Administration officials are hopeful that Biden’s Cabinet will remain intact to avoid any prolonged confirmation battle in a narrowly divided Senate. And administration allies are similarly optimistic that White House chief of staff Ron Klain will remain in the job for the foreseeable future.

“Ron’s ability to do so many things at the same time is something that I just, you rarely run across this,” Anita Dunn, a senior adviser to the president, said at an Axios event in late October.

“There is no better chief of staff,” she added. “My hope is he stays just as long as President Biden does, which means poor Ron is in for another six years.”

Klain, who has at times drawn the ire of some centrist senators amid legislative talks, has earned the backing of progressive Democrats in particular. And Biden himself has reportedly asked Klain to stay on.

That comes in contrast to the Trump administration, where the former president cycled through four chiefs of staff, four press secretaries and several Cabinet secretaries in one term.

In Trump’s first two years in office, 43 officials in the executive office of the president resigned or were promoted and therefore left their original positions, according to data compiled by Kathryn Dunn Tenpas, a nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

By comparison, Biden has seen 24 staffers in the executive office of the president depart or get promoted during his first two years in office, according to Tenpas’s tracker.

Trump also had seven Cabinet-level officials resign or be pushed out during his first two years in office. Meanwhile, Biden has yet to see a single Cabinet-level official step down since he took office.

Biden’s other top advisers — including Steve Ricchetti, Mike Donilon and Jen O’Malley Dillon — have also remained in their jobs for the past two years. Kate Bedingfield, who worked on the 2020 campaign and with Biden as vice president, briefly announced plans to depart from her job as communications director over the summer, only to reverse course and stay put.

The president likes to keep a tight inner circle filled with aides that he has known for years. One Democratic strategist who previously worked with Biden said they expected any major staffing changes would likely be in service of a possible reelection bid.

For example, Cedric Richmond left his job as a senior adviser to the president in May to work with the Democratic National Committee. 

Dunn, who herself left the White House in August 2021 only to return as a senior adviser, has already acknowledged that some planning is underway for staffing and strategizing around a 2024 campaign.

“He has said he intends to run,” Dunn said at the Axios event. “We are engaged in some planning, for the simple reason if we weren’t engaged in planning in November of this year, we should be in the political malpractice hall of fame.”

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