National security adviser McDonough will replace Obama's chief of staff
WASHINGTON — In selecting Denis McDonough to be his next and fifth chief of staff, President Obama is tapping a longtime confidant and unflappable ally to be his gatekeeper to the personalities and challenges that will confront him in his second term.
Obama announced on Friday that McDonough, now one of the president's closest national security advisers, will replace outgoing White House chief of staff Jack Lew, whom Obama has nominated for Treasury secretary.
McDonough, 43, becomes the latest link in a chain of staffers elevated to key roles in the Obama White House following years of service within the president's closely guarded inner circle. The risk-averse strategy keeps Obama in his comfort zone and ensures that those setting the tone for the administration are in tight harmony with his way of thinking.
“The president trusts him — perhaps more than anyone else in the White House. And I think he knows the president's mind perhaps better than anyone else in the White House,” said John Podesta, who served as President Bill Clinton's chief of staff.
A native of Stillwater, Minn., McDonough obtained a master's degree from Georgetown University in 1996 and became a foreign policy staffer in the House, then later in the Senate under Tom Daschle, the top Senate Democrat at the time.
Like so many of the president's senior aides, his work for Obama started during the 2008 campaign, in which he served as a foreign policy aide and was a senior adviser on the transition team. In 2009, he became the chief of staff for Obama's national security staff.
Obama said McDonough was not only one of his closest advisers but also one of his closest friends, recounting the “countless crises” during the first term that had engrossed McDonough at all hours of the day.
“I've actually begun to think that Denis likes pulling all-nighters,” Obama said to knowing laughter from fellow staffers in the East Room. “The truth is nobody outworks Denis McDonough.”
Current and former White House staffers describe McDonough as an exceptionally hard worker with deep loyalty to the president.
Obama's first chief of staff, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, was known more for volatility than cool-headedness. And some administration officials still bristle at the president's attempt to bring in an outsider for the chief of staff job — Bill Daly, who replaced Emanuel but lasted only about a year before leaving Washington. McDonough is expected to be more in the mold of Lew.