WASHINGTON — Outgoing White House chief of staff Ron Klain broke down in tears over and over again Wednesday while handing over power to his successor Jeff Zients — going so far as to praise President Biden as a role model for parenting and Vice President Kamala Harris as a great officemate.
“This is the best job I ever had,” the 61-year-old Klain blubbered as he began his remarks at an East Room transition celebration, forcing his 80-year-old boss to supportively rub his shoulder as he regained his composure.
In the moments when he wasn’t crying, Klain seemed to confirm that Biden is running for reelection in 2024 and acknowledge PR woes for Vice President Kamala Harris, who has received bad press as workers flee what’s been described as a “toxic” vice presidential office.
“It’s been an honor to be [Harris’] next-door neighbor in the West Wing these two years,” Klain said in a dry-eyed moment.
“I wish every American could get to know Vice President Harris as I have. I would say she’s been the best vice president in history, but, eh, you know,” Klain said, jokingly referring to the fact that Biden also was a vice president.
Klain, a wealthy lawyer and former lobbyist, survived two years in the grueling top job — and the emotional toll seemed to show.
“It is never a good bet to bet against Joe Biden and this team — never, ever a good bet,” Klain howled through tears at his goodbye party.
Klain listed various pieces of legislation and executive actions, sniveling it was “not bad” for “a president and a team that was written off for dead in the winter of 2019 and for dead again in the winter of 2020 and for dead again in the winter of 2021 and for dead again the first week of November 2022.”
The outgoing chief of staff’s praise of his boss seemingly knew no bounds.
At one point, Klain bawled, “I just want to say this one thing today: I learned everything I know about how to be a good father from Joe Biden. He’s the best father I know and the best role model I know and along the way he’s taught me a thing or two about politics and policy as well.”
“Dr. [Jill] Biden, you welcomed me into the Biden family four decades ago, and there’s no higher honor I could have,” he whimpered.
Biden’s parenting has come under fire from critics in part because he frequently interacted with his son Hunter’s overseas business associates — while according to Hunter making him hand over up to “half” of his income. A diary formerly belonging to first daughter Ashley Biden, who like Hunter has abused cocaine, described inappropriate childhood showers with her dad.
Klain tearfully told his audience that his favorite White House memento was a “plain and simple rock” that “symbolizes to me that this team has been rock solid.”
In a remark that all but confirms Biden’s plan to seek reelection — despite the fact that he would be 86 years old if he completes a second term — Klain said, “I look forward to being on your side when you run for president in 2024,” hailing Biden as a “wise, passionate, determined and fearless president” who was “determination to save our democracy and the soul of this nation.”
“We passed the largest economic plan — the most significant one — since FDR while managing the largest land war in Europe since Truman. We passed the biggest infrastructure bill since Ike, passed more judges than any first year president since JFK and the second biggest healthcare bill since LBJ, the most significant gun control bill since Bill Clinton was president and the largest climate bill passed by any country at any time,” Klain said, “all while managing the worst public health crisis any president has faced since Woodrow Wilson with the narrowest majority in Congress of any new Democratic president in 100 years.”
Klain, a father of three, showed emotion at other more expected parts of his speech.
“To my family and my kids, whose support and patience and love and understanding has kept me going these two years — for the engagement celebrations I missed, the birthdays I missed and the time I was not there to do various things, thank you. And I love you guys and for the next two years, every day it’s my turn to walk the dog,” Klain said.
Klain, who previously worked for Biden when he was a senator and vice president, received a much snazzier sendoff than former President Donald Trump’s first chief of staff, Reince Priebus, whose abrupt firing was announced by Trump on Twitter after six months.
Incoming chief of staff Jeff Zients, 56, is a former Obama White House budget director and previously worked as Biden’s White House coronavirus coordinator and before that was on Facebook’s board of directors from 2018 to 2020.
Zients is believed to be Biden’s wealthiest aide with a personal fortune of between $89.3 million and $442.8 million, according to disclosure forms. His riches come in part from healthcare companies accused of defrauding Medicare and Medicaid, according to a profile last year in the progressive American Prospect magazine.
Zients also co-owns the popular Call Your Mother bagel chain in DC.
“Jeff has pledged to buy everyone in the White House a free bagel every single day. So I will soon be forgotten,” Klain said, in a possible joke.