Through tears, outgoing top White House aide says goodbye

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President Joe Biden attends an event to thank outgoing White House chief of staff Ron Klain, right, in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2023. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

WASHINGTON – Outgoing White House chief of staff Ron Klain burst into tears Wednesday as he talked about his boss, President Joe Biden, and his decades of work with him.

“This is the best job I've ever had,” said Klain, immediately crying after he said he couldn't promise a tear-free speech. Biden gently patted him on the back.

The East Room was packed with White House staff, aides and Cabinet members there to send Klain off, a Biden loyalist who has worked for the president off and on for 36 years. Klain said that through it all, Biden has been a leader, a teacher and a mentor. And his admiration doesn't stop at governing.

“I learned everything I know about how to be a good father from Joe Biden,” said Klain, the father of three, choking up.

Klain led the White House through its highs — passage of consequential legislation like the massive infrastructure bill and the Democrats’ climate, health care and tax law, as well as dozens of judges confirmed in the first two years and the first Black woman named to the U.S. Supreme Court — as well as its lows, such as the rocky withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan.

“Ron has been at my side in one capacity or another, and there's been some very tough and real battles we've been in together,” Biden said. “This is a guy who's always been there.”

The transition is the first major personnel change for an administration that has had minimal turnover at its highest ranks and throughout the Cabinet.

Klain is succeeded by Jeff Zients, who led the administration's COVID-19 response. The 56-year-old Zients is tasked with leading operations as the Democratic administration shifts from ambitious legislating to implementing those policies and fending off Republican efforts to defang the achievements. Zients will also now manage the fallout from discoveries of classified documents at Biden’s home in Wilmington, Delaware, and at his former institute in Washington, which has triggered a special counsel investigation.