Longtime aide named Obama’s chief of staff

WASHINGTON — President Obama selected a close aide and foreign policy advisor as his next chief of staff on Friday, part of a White House shake-up that signaled the president intends to rely on familiar faces in his second term.

Denis McDonough, a deputy national security advisor and a longtime aide to the president, will replace outgoing Chief of Staff Jacob J. Lew, Obama’s nominee to lead the Treasury Department.

Unlike Lew, McDonough comes to the job from the Obama inner circle, knowing his boss and his colleagues well. McDonough first joined the Obama team during the 2008 presidential campaign. But his connection to the president goes back further: As a Capitol Hill aide he helped the new senator from Illinois set up his office and learn the ropes.

“He was able to show me where the restrooms were and how you passed a bill,” Obama said as he announced McDonough’s post at the White House on Friday. “But at that time, I relied on his intellect and his good judgment, and that has continued ever since.”

McDonough has played a key role in many of the major foreign policy decisions of Obama’s first term. Aides say few in the White House understand the president’s foreign policy views so well.


He coordinated the Obama policy to scale back the U.S. combat role in Afghanistan and was involved in the operation that killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan. He also dealt with the political fallout after the U.S. mission was attacked in Libya.

McDonough, a Stillwater, Minn., native, graduated from St. John’s University and earned a master’s degree in foreign service from Georgetown University. He worked for Sen. Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) and was later a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, a progressive think tank, before he joined the Obama campaign as a foreign policy advisor.

His promotion won praise from one prominent Republican.

“I think he will serve the nation well,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) in a statement. “Denis is a steady hand, smart guy, and is well respected on both sides of the aisle. I have enjoyed working with him on national security matters and look forward to continuing that relationship.”

McDonough will be Obama’s fifth chief of staff in four years. After a fair amount of turnover at the top, the president is aiming for stability and continuity in his second-term team.

Obama also named some other top advisors. Rob Nabors, the White House legislative liaison, will become his deputy chief of staff for policy. Communications director Dan Pfeiffer will be named senior advisor, taking over some of the duties that belonged to David Plouffe, the president’s political guru. And Jennifer Palmieri, a deputy to Pfeiffer, will take over his post.

In his remarks, Obama paid tribute to Plouffe, who is known for his mastery of data and his cool demeanor. Despite that exterior, Obama noted, his close political confidant had a heart.

“He cares about justice, and he cares about making sure that everybody gets a shot in life,” the president said. “And those values have motivated him to do incredible things, and were it not for him, we would not have been as effective a White House, and I probably wouldn’t be here.”