Will Jeff Zients destroy Joe Biden’s presidency?

By | April 3, 2023

Jeet Heer writes:

When Jeff Zients took over as White House chief of staff on February 8, 2023, he could be grateful that his predecessor, Ron Klain, left him a smoothly running operation. Under Klain’s watch, the first two years of Biden’s presidency were considerably more successful than anyone could have expected. This was especially true given that Biden faced the headwinds of a turbulent economy, international turmoil from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and a polarized polity at home.

Despite having thin majorities in the Senate and the House of Representatives, Biden was able to push through major spending increases in the form of the Infrastructure Act and the Inflation Reduction Act (which contained significant environmental spending), staff a much more assertive National Labor Review Board, and get progressive federal judges nominated and confirmed at an impressive pace (undoing the damage done not just by Donald Trump’s court packing but also Barack Obama’s negligence in handling the judicial file).

A big part of Klain’s success came from his ability to work with congressional Democrats: He kept the lines of communication open with both moderates and progressives, giving enough to all sides to keep the Democratic Party united. The midterms, where Democrats defied history by improving in the Senate and losing only narrowly in the House, was a vindication of Klain’s tenure. The results showed that a unified Democratic Party could govern well enough to keep voter confidence—even amid worries about inflation and a European war.

Joe Biden’s decision to replace Klain with Zients was met with skepticism by myself and my colleague Chris Lehmann. As I warned, Zients’s background as a political centrist who ran predatory health insurance companies didn’t bode well for the progressive agenda. The main arguments on Zients’s behalf were based on claims of competence. His managerial expertise, it was argued, should allow him to adeptly implement Biden’s agenda. But as Chris Lehmann noted, these claims of proficiency were belied by Zients’s actual record as Covid czar under Biden, where his penchant for privatization led to dire results.

The past few months have vindicated our worries about whether Zients was up to the job. The hallmark of the new Zients regime at the White House has been the breakdown in communication with congressional Democrats. [Continue reading…]