White House Chief of Staff

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White House Chief of Staff
RonKlain-600x400 (cropped).jpg
Ron Klain

since January 20, 2021
Executive Office of the President
White House Office
Reports toPresident of the United States
AppointerPresident of the United States
Formation1946 (Assistant to the President)
1961 (White House Chief of Staff)
First holderJohn R. Steelman

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 Richard Nixon have appointed a 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.


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 the president's only chief of staff; Kenneth O'Donnell alone served in the position during John F. Kennedy's unfinished term of 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.


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 Mark Felt. later revealed as "Deep Throat", displayed a genuine fear of Haldeman.[7][8]

List of White House chiefs of staff[edit]

No. Portrait Chief of Staff Took office Left office Time in office Party President
John Steelman
Steelman, JohnJohn Steelman
December 12, 1946January 20, 19536 years, 39 daysDemocraticTruman, HarryHarry S Truman (Democratic)
(1945 – 1953)
Sherman Adams
Adams, ShermanSherman Adams
January 20, 1953October 7, 19585 years, 260 daysRepublicanEisenhower, DwightDwight D. Eisenhower (Republican)
(1953 – 1961)
Wilton Persons
Persons, WiltonWilton Persons
October 7, 1958January 20, 19612 years, 105 daysRepublicanEisenhower, DwightDwight D. Eisenhower (Republican)
(1953 – 1961)
Kenneth O'Donnell
O'Donnell, KennethKenneth O'Donnell
January 20, 1961November 22, 19632 years, 306 daysDemocraticKennedy, JohnJohn F. Kennedy (Democratic)
(1961 – 1963)
Marvin Watson
Watson, MarvinMarvin Watson
February 1, 1965April 26, 19683 years, 85 daysDemocraticJohnson, LyndonLyndon B. Johnson (Democratic)
(1963 – 1969)
James R. Jones
Jones, JamesJames R. Jones
(born 1939)
April 26, 1968January 20, 1969269 daysDemocraticJohnson, LyndonLyndon B. Johnson (Democratic)
(1963 – 1969)
H. R. Haldeman
Haldeman, HarryH. R. Haldeman
January 20, 1969April 30, 19734 years, 100 daysRepublicanNixon, RichardRichard Nixon (Republican)
(1969 – 1974)
April 30, 1973 – May 4, 1973 (4 days)
Alexander Haig
Haig, AlexanderAlexander Haig
May 4, 1973September 21, 19741 year, 140 daysRepublicanNixon, RichardRichard Nixon (Republican)
(1969 – 1974)
Gerald Ford (Republican)
(1974 – 1977)
Donald Rumsfeld
Rumsfeld, DonaldDonald Rumsfeld
September 21, 1974November 20, 19751 year, 60 daysRepublicanFord, GeraldGerald Ford (Republican)
(1974 – 1977)
Dick Cheney
Cheney, DickDick Cheney
(born 1941)
November 20, 1975January 20, 19771 year, 61 daysRepublicanFord, GeraldGerald Ford (Republican)
(1974 – 1977)
January 20, 1977 – July 18, 1979 (2 years, 179 days)
Hamilton Jordan
Jordan, HamiltonHamilton Jordan
July 18, 1979June 11, 1980329 daysDemocraticCarter, JimmyJimmy Carter (Democratic)
(1977 – 1981)
Jack Watson
Watson, JackJack Watson
(born 1938)
June 11, 1980January 20, 1981223 daysDemocraticCarter, JimmyJimmy Carter (Democratic)
(1977 – 1981)
James Baker
Baker, JamesJames Baker
(born 1930)
January 20, 1981February 4, 19854 years, 15 daysRepublicanReagan, RonaldRonald Reagan (Republican)
(1981 – 1989)
Donald Regan
Regan, DonaldDonald Regan
February 4, 1985February 27, 19872 years, 23 daysRepublicanReagan, RonaldRonald Reagan (Republican)
(1981 – 1989)
Howard Baker
Baker, HowardHoward Baker
February 27, 1987July 1, 19881 year, 125 daysRepublicanReagan, RonaldRonald Reagan (Republican)
(1981 – 1989)
Kenneth Duberstein
Duberstein, KennethKenneth Duberstein
(born 1944)
July 1, 1988January 20, 1989203 daysRepublicanReagan, RonaldRonald Reagan (Republican)
(1981 – 1989)
John Sununu
Sununu, JohnJohn Sununu
(born 1939)
January 20, 1989December 16, 19912 years, 330 daysRepublicanBush, GeorgeGeorge H. W. Bush (Republican)
(1989 – 1993)
Samuel Skinner
Skinner, SamuelSamuel Skinner
(born 1938)
December 16, 1991August 23, 1992251 daysRepublicanBush, GeorgeGeorge H. W. Bush (Republican)
(1989 – 1993)
James Baker
Baker, JamesJames Baker
(born 1930)
August 23, 1992January 20, 1993150 daysRepublicanBush, GeorgeGeorge H. W. Bush (Republican)
(1989 – 1993)
Mack McLarty
McLarty, MackMack McLarty
(born 1946)
January 20, 1993July 17, 19941 year, 178 daysDemocraticClinton, BillBill Clinton (Democratic)
(1993 – 2001)
Leon Panetta
Panetta, LeonLeon Panetta
(born 1938)
July 17, 1994January 20, 19972 years, 187 daysDemocraticClinton, BillBill Clinton (Democratic)
(1993 – 2001)
Erskine Bowles
Bowles, ErskineErskine Bowles
(born 1945)
January 20, 1997October 20, 19981 year, 273 daysDemocraticClinton, BillBill Clinton (Democratic)
(1993 – 2001)
John Podesta
Podesta, JohnJohn Podesta
(born 1949)
October 20, 1998January 20, 20012 years, 92 daysDemocraticClinton, BillBill Clinton (Democratic)
(1993 – 2001)
Andrew Card
Card, AndrewAndrew Card
(born 1947)
January 20, 2001April 14, 20065 years, 84 daysRepublicanBush, GeorgeGeorge W. Bush (Republican)
(2001 – 2009)
Joshua Bolten
Bolten, JoshuaJoshua Bolten
(born 1954)
April 14, 2006January 20, 20092 years, 281 daysRepublicanBush, GeorgeGeorge W. Bush (Republican)
(2001 – 2009)
Rahm Emanuel
Emanuel, RahmRahm Emanuel
(born 1959)
January 20, 2009October 1, 20101 year, 254 daysDemocraticObama, BarackBarack Obama (Democratic)
(2009 – 2017)
Pete Rouse
Rouse, PetePete Rouse
(born 1946)
October 1, 2010January 13, 2011104 daysDemocraticObama, BarackBarack Obama (Democratic)
(2009 – 2017)
Bill Daley
Daley, WilliamBill Daley
(born 1948)
January 13, 2011January 27, 20121 year, 14 daysDemocraticObama, BarackBarack Obama (Democratic)
(2009 – 2017)
Jack Lew
Lew, JackJack Lew
(born 1955)
January 27, 2012January 20, 2013359 daysDemocraticObama, BarackBarack Obama (Democratic)
(2009 – 2017)
Denis McDonough
McDonough, DenisDenis McDonough
(born 1969)
January 20, 2013January 20, 20174 years, 0 daysDemocraticObama, BarackBarack Obama (Democratic)
(2009 – 2017)
Reince Priebus
Priebus, ReinceReince Priebus
(born 1972)
January 20, 2017July 31, 2017192 daysRepublicanTrump, DonaldDonald Trump (Republican)
(2017 – 2021)
John F. Kelly
Kelly, JohnJohn F. Kelly
(born 1950)
July 31, 2017January 2, 20191 year, 154 daysIndependentTrump, DonaldDonald Trump (Republican)
(2017 – 2021)
Mick Mulvaney
Mulvaney, MickMick Mulvaney
(born 1967)
January 2, 2019March 31, 20201 year, 89 daysRepublicanTrump, DonaldDonald Trump (Republican)
(2017 – 2021)
Mark Meadows
Meadows, MarkMark Meadows
(born 1959)
March 31, 2020January 20, 2021295 daysRepublicanTrump, DonaldDonald Trump (Republican)
(2017 – 2021)
Ron Klain
Klain, RonRon Klain
(born 1961)
January 20, 2021Incumbent1 year, 3 daysDemocraticBiden, JoeJoe Biden (Democratic)
(since 2021)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c De facto, as Appointments Secretary.
  2. ^ Pete Rouse served as ad interim White House Chief of Staff following the resignation of Rahm Emanuel and until the appointment of Bill Daley.


  1. ^ "New Quarters". Time. December 17, 1934. Archived from the original on January 20, 2009. Retrieved May 8, 2008.
  2. ^ "An Appointment". Time. August 20, 1923. Archived from the original on December 22, 2008. Retrieved May 9, 2009.
  3. ^ "Hamilton Jordan, Carter's Right Hand, Dies at 63". The New York Times. May 21, 2008. Retrieved March 7, 2016.
  4. ^ Michael Nelson (2013). The Presidency and the Political System. SAGE Publications. p. 351. ISBN 9781483322896. Retrieved March 7, 2016.
  5. ^ a b c Whipple, Chris. (2017). The Gatekeepers: How the White House Chiefs of Staff Define Every Presidency. New York: Crown Publishing Group.
  6. ^ "Transcript". CNN. August 13, 2018.
  7. ^ Woodward, Bob; Bernstein, Carl. (1974) All the President's Men. New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 978-0-671-21781-5
  8. ^ Woodward, Bob. (2005). The Secret Man. New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0-7432-8715-0