Obama names foreign policy aide McDonough new chief of staff

Denis McDonough

President Barack Obama on Friday 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, at 12:10 p.m. EST, 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 U.S. 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.


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