US President-elect Joe Biden has named Ron Klain, a decades-long associate, as his chief of staff, signalling he will rely on a close circle of known and trusted aides, all moderates.
Klain was Biden’s first major personnel announcement as the president-elect forged ahead with putting together his team for taking charge on January 20, undeterred by President Donald Trump’s refusal to acknowledge defeat and extend the incoming administration time-honoured transition protocols.
“Ron has been invaluable to me over the many years that we have worked together, including as we rescued the American economy from one of the worst downturns in our history in 2009 and later overcame a daunting public health emergency in 2014,” Biden said in a statement.
“His deep, varied experience and capacity to work with people all across the political spectrum is precisely what I need in a White House chief of staff as we confront this moment of crisis and bring our country together again.”
Klain has been with Biden since his days in US Senate. The president-elect was serving his seventh six-year term when he was elected as President Barack Obama’s deputy.
A Harvard law school alumnus, Klain served as chief of staff to Biden as vice-president and led the Obama administration’s response to the 2014-15 Ebola epidemic in the US, as the “Ebola Czar”.
Klain’s selection was seen as a signal that moderates in the Democratic party, who have been the president-elect’s natural constituency, will have the upper hand in the administration even if progressives were able to wrest major concessions in terms of policy and personnel, as feared by some in India.
New Delhi should breathe easy a little, observers said after Klain’s appointment. But they cautioned that a better understanding of the incoming administration’s impact on India will have to await other key appointments such as secretary of state, secretary of defence and the national security advisor.
Susan Rice, a former national security adviser and US ambassador to the UN, is a frontrunner for secretary of state as are William Burns, a former deputy secretary of state, and Anthony Blinken, also a former deputy security of state and the Biden campaign’s foremost surrogate on foreign policy.
Michele Flournoy, a former deputy secretary of defence, is the top contender for the top defence position in every speculative list of Biden’s cabinet.
And Blinken leads every list for NSA.
Indian officials have had close and long working relationships with all four, according to many past and present diplomats who have dealt with them, and they look forward to engaging with them, confident of their understanding of and support for ties with India, specially at a fraught time such as this.
In an outreach to the Indian American community on the occasion of the Indian Independence Day past August 15, Blinken, who was the Biden campaign’s chief spokesperson on national security and foreign policy issues, had said that cooperation between the two countries should “extend even beyond the region to the world as large”.
He had gone on to assert that the Biden administration will support a larger role for India in international institutions — including a permanent seat in a reformed UN Security Council.