Who – exactly – is the new “Ebola Czar” Ron Kain? An insider? A crony? Certainly a lawyer. Politico’s Mike Allen writes that Kain, due to start his new job on Wednesday, is also in line to replace President Obama counsellor John Podesta who is likely to leave to chair Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign team.
“The president has been talking to Ron about different roles for a long time, and he wouldn’t accept the Ebola job unless there was a promise of something bigger,” said a longtime Klain colleague.
A senior Democrat who works closely with the White House said: “He’s very good at seeing around corners. And they know they need someone who can do that.”
Klain also would be a candidate to succeed chief of staff Denis McDonough, although McDonough seems to love his job and may stay, the insiders said.
The counselor job — which before Podesta was held by longtime Obama confidant Pete Rouse — is a big-think, wise-man counterpart to the chief of staff, without the administrative responsibility.
Klain, 53, who has one of the city’s longest résumés in the inner circles of Democratic politics, has been working for AOL co-founder Steve Case as president of Case Holdings and general counsel of Revolution LLC. His appointment has received mixed notices, with commentators wondering why Obama didn’t choose a medical or military expert.
But Democrats close to the White House said the choice of Klain — a former chief of staff to Vice President Joe Biden, Vice President Al Gore and Attorney General Janet Reno — has a logic that has been overlooked by outsiders.
Bringing Klain into the West Wing now would provide a smooth transition to Podesta’s job when he departs — probably early next year, perhaps after the State of the Union address.
“Ron is part of the small circle that Obama is comfortable with and keeps going back to,” the longtime colleague says. “He knows how to get ahead of problems and to use the levers of the federal government.”
Podesta — whose portfolio includes climate change, energy policy and big data and privacy — started in January and said he planned to stay a year. Before chairing Obama’s transition after the historic election of 2008, Podesta was White House chief of staff to Bill Clinton. Family advisers say Podesta is likely to be chairman or CEO of Hillary Clinton’s presidential bid.