Zients left the White House in April after leading the administration’s pandemic response and leading the largest vaccination drive in U.S. history. He returned to the White House in the fall to help Klein prepare for post-midterm election turnover — a project that ended up being limited in scope because few senior staff members across the administration left. But in recent weeks, Klain has assigned him different projects that some see as preparation for Zients’ top job, the people said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss personnel matters.
A White House spokesman declined to comment.
Zients took over the top job as Biden enters a challenging new presidency: Republicans have launched a series of investigations into the administration and the president’s son’s business dealings. Attorney General Merrick Garland appointed a special counsel to investigate the handling of classified documents found in Biden’s personal office and home in Wilmington, Delaware. And Biden is preparing to launch his re-election campaign.
Zients came into office with a very different profile than Klain: His first government job was under the Obama administration, and he has spent most of his career in the private sector. He has only ever worked in the executive branch. His personal Twitter account has no posts.
But colleagues hailed Zients as a master of implementation, able to command the deep loyalty of those he oversaw.
As Biden steps up his political campaign, some Democrats say they expect a change in the structure of the chief of staff role, with Biden’s political advisers including Anita Dunn, Jen O’Malley Dillon, Mike Donilon, Smith Tiff Ricketti and Bruce Reid will take over to be more prominent in the building.
They compared the arrangement to that in the Obama White House, when Jack Lew served as White House chief of staff in 2012 and focused on keeping the federal government afloat, while political strategist David Plouffe served from 2011 to 2013. Entered the White House in 1999 and served as White House chief of staff. Senior adviser overseeing re-election campaign. Democrats say senior adviser Dunn will fill a role similar to Plouffe.
Zients, 56, was born in Washington and attended St. Albans School before graduating from Duke University. A successful management consultant, he ran Advisory Board Company with David Bradley before taking it public and earning tens of millions of dollars. In the early 2000s, the Zients put together a team that tried unsuccessfully to acquire the Washington Nationals.
He first entered the administration during the Obama administration and eventually served in several senior positions, including the Office of Management and Budget and the National Economic Council. He earned the nickname “Mr.” Fix-It,” in recognition of his strong operational skills, including helping resolve issues with the launch of healthcare.gov, the Obama administration’s healthcare website.
After leaving the Obama administration, Zienz ran an investment firm and served on Facebook’s board for two years, an experience that drew criticism from liberals.
During a particularly difficult time during Biden’s 2020 presidential campaign, Zients was brought in to help with the campaign’s finances. He then co-chaired Biden’s transition before leading the administration’s response to the coronavirus.
In leading the fight against the pandemic, Zients has taken on one of the president’s most challenging and critical tasks — overseeing the early work to vaccinate the American public and adapt to new and highly contagious variants. When Zients left the White House, Biden praised him as a “man of service and an expert administrator.”
“I call on Jeff Zients to lead my administration’s response to COVID-19 because no one is better at delivering results than Jeff,” Biden said in a statement at the time.