* Former chief counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee
* Has worked for every Democratic presidential campaign from Bill Clinton (1992) through Barack Obama (2012)
* Served as associate counsel to President Bill Clinton
* Was chief of staff to Vice President Al Gore (1995-99)
* Was chief of staff to Vice President Joe Biden (2009-11)
* Was appointed “Ebola Response Coordinator” (a.k.a. “Ebola Czar”) by President Obama in 2014
* Was appointed as White House Chief of Staff by President-elect Biden in November 2020
Ronald A. Klain was born on August 8, 1961 in Indianapolis, Indiana.
After earning a bachelor’s degree in American Politics & Government from Georgetown University in 1983, he deferred entry into Harvard Law School so he could run the U.S. Senate campaign of Democrat Rep. Ed Markey of Massachusetts.
Klain subsequently earned a Juris Doctorate (JD) from Harvard Law School in 1987. During his JD studies, he served as an editor of the Harvard Law Review, and in 1985 he took a job as a research assistant to law professor Laurence Tribe. According to the Legal Times:
“Klain spent most of his time with Tribe working on Tribe’s book God Save This Honorable Court, which argued that the Senate should play a more vigorous role in the selection of federal judges and that senators, through the advise-and-consent process, should seek to preserve ideological balance on the Supreme Court. The book, which was published in 1985, became a kind of intellectual road map for Democrats as they worked to defeat Robert Bork’s Supreme Court nomination two years later. Many of Klain’s friends and former colleagues say that he wrote large sections of the book, a claim that Tribe disputes.”
After completing his legal education, Klain took a job as a law clerk for Supreme Court Justice Byron White in 1987-88, and also served briefly as legislative director for Congressman Ed Markey.
Klain worked for the Clinton–Gore presidential campaigns of 1992 and 1996, serving as a key debate-preparation advisor for Mr. Clinton. He would subsequently perform a similar function for Democrat presidential candidates Al Gore (2000), John Kerry (2004), and Barack Obama (2008 & 2012). Klain also prepped vice presidential candidate Joe Biden in 2008.
In the Clinton White House, Klain served as associate counsel to the president, a role in which he oversaw Mr. Clinton’s judicial nominations. When Clinton named Ruth Bader Ginsburg to the Supreme Court in 1993, Klain, as Time magazine put it, “shepherded” Ginsburg’s nomination through the Senate. He did the same for Attorney General nominee Janet Reno that year, and then became her chief of staff and counselor in 1994.
In 1995, Senator Tom Daschle appointed Klain as staff director of the Senate Democratic Leadership Committee.
From 1995-99, Klain served as chief of staff to Vice President Al Gore.
In October 1999, Klain joined the Washington, D.C. office of the O’Melveny & Myers law firm, where he lobbied on behalf of Cigna, Fannie Mae, ImClone, Time Warner, U.S. Airways, and other companies and industry organizations.
In 1994, Time magazine named Klain one of the “50 most promising leaders in America” under the age of 40.
In 1999, Washingtonian magazine named Klain the top lawyer in D.C. under the age of 40.
In 1999 as well, the American Bar Association’s Barrister magazine named Klain one of the top 20 young lawyers in the United States.
In 2000, the National Law Journal named Klain one of its Lawyers of the Year.
In 2000, Klain took a senior position in the Al Gore presidential campaign. When Florida’s November election results were infamously disputed, Klain served as general counsel of Gore’s Recount Committee.
Early in the 2004 presidential campaign season, Klain was an advisor to General Wesley Clark in the early Democratic primaries. When Clark later dropped out of the race, Klain became heavily involved in John Kerry’s White House bid.
According to Timothy P. Carney in the Washington Examiner, disclosure forms indicate that Klain in 2004 tried to falsely “convinc[e] Congress and Fannie Mae’s regulators that Fannie Mae wasn’t doing anything dangerous, and wasn’t exposing taxpayers to risk” — when in fact it was exposing taxpayers to enormous, and ultimately catastrophic, risk. “In other words,” wrote Carney, “Ron Klain got paid to help fuel the housing bubble up until a couple of years before it popped.”
In 2005 Klain left his partnership at O’Melveny & Myers to become executive vice president and general counsel of a new technology venture-capital firm, Revolution LLC, whose mission was “to build disruptive, innovative companies” dedicated to “attacking large, traditional industries with innovative new products and services.” Revolution LLC was part of Case Holdings, the company that managed the business interests of AOL co-founder and former chairman Steve Case.
In 2008, Klain stepped down from his post at Revolution LLC to serve as chief of staff to Vice President Joe Biden from 2009-11. One of his major duties in the Obama/Biden White House was to help implement the $831 billion “American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009” (popularly known as the stimulus bill) and to supervise its allocation of funds. Also in 2009, Klain was responsible for the hiring of Jay Carney as White House press secretary.
In 2010 Klain advised President Obama to visit and publicly praise the California-based solar-power company Solyndra, even though auditors were already warning about the abysmal state of its finances. According to The Washington Post, Klain “dismissed auditors’ concerns about Solyndra’s solvency, reasoning that all innovative companies come with risk.” Soon thereafter, Solyndra went bankrupt and shut down its operations, but not before it had received a $535 million government-backed loan.
In late 2010 Klain was considered a frontrunner to replace outgoing White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, who was preparing to begin his tenure as mayor of Chicago. But upon leaving his post as chief of staff to Vice President Biden at the end of January 2011, Klain opted instead to rejoin Case Holdings, this time as its president.
On October 17, 2014, President Obama appointed Klain as his administration’s “Ebola Response Coordinator” (a.k.a. “Ebola Czar”), tasked with orchestrating the America’s response to the recent outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus in West Africa. Possessing no training in public health or in dealing with infectious diseases, Klain, in this position, would report directly to Homeland Security Advisor Lisa Monaco and National Security Advisor Susan Rice.
In 2015, Klain joined Hillary Clinton’s ultimately-unsuccessful presidential campaign, helping Mrs. Clinton prepare for the Democratic primary debates and, later, for the presidential debates against Republican nominee Donald Trump.
From 2016-2020, Klain was the board chairman of Higher Ground Labs, which, according to its own self-description, supports “start-ups [that are] building products that help progressives win.”
In a March 2019 appearance on MSNBC, Klain said that President Donald Trump’s recent criticisms of the late Senator John McCain, who had died seven months earlier, showed that Trump had “subhuman” personal qualities. At issue was the fact that Trump had criticized McCain for: (a) voting against a measure aimed at repealing and replacing Obamacare, and (b) sharing with the FBI a copy of the infamous and fraudulent “Steele dossier” that contained salacious and uncorroborated allegations about Trump’s personal behavior and his alleged collusion with Russian agents during the 2016 presidential campaign. “I think there’s a personal element and a political element,” Klain stated. “On the personal side, you know, Meghan McCain [the late senator’s daughter] says that Donald Trump is not a great man. I would say what we saw this weekend [Trump’s remarks about McCain’s vote on an Obamacare repeal] shows that Donald Trump is barely human. I mean, to go after and attack John McCain, a national hero, months after his death, is just, it’s subhuman. It’s not only not befitting a president, it’s not befitting basic common norms of decency, that’s the human aspect of it.”
In May 2019, when several (though not all) of the nonwhite members of the 2018 World Series champion Boston Red Sox refused President Trump’s invitation to have them visit the White House to be honored for their achievement, Klain told MSNBC anchor Nicole Wallace: “Among the many, many sad chapters of Donald Trump is that he relishes in dividing us as a country. I bet he was happy today that he was able to say that the white players were here and the players of color weren’t.”
In a March 17, 2020 appearance on CNBC, Klain graded President Trump’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic an “F”:
“Fairly, I’d have to say it’s an F and I’ll tell you why. First of all, the travel ban from China was always, only partial. If you had a true travel ban from China, we wouldn’t have the virus here. But it is right? And it’s here in very large numbers. Commercial cargo is always exempted, obviously, the return of U.S. citizens are always exempted. Even after this was in place thousands of people were coming from China every day. Now, we knew that and there’s no question that Dr. [Anthony] Fauci [an immunologist with the National Institutes of Health of the United States] is right, that it bought us some time. But we squandered that time, and if you look at the countries that have been most successful, they used the time they got, the time they knew the virus was coming until the time it came, to ramp up testing, to ramp up hospitals, to ramp up gear, to ramp up PPE [personal protective equipment]. We didn’t do any of those things. We sat around and spent those two months saying it’s not going to be here, 15 cases, it’s going to go to zero. What we’re living with now in the country, the virus was created by nature, but the failed response was created by decisions we made. I think we’re seeing the consequences of that. There’s no reason why America is testing at a fraction of the rate of South Korea, there’s no reason why we didn’t ramp up like Singapore to deal with this…. [W]e’re going to pay a huge price for squandering January, squandering February, squandering even a little bit of March.”
During the May 15, 2020 broadcast of MSNBC’s Morning Joe, co-host Mika Brzezinski asked Klain to assess how President Trump was handling the COVID pandemic. “I guess I would ask in terms of helping people understand how safe they are, to understand the reality of the leadership they have, how would you characterize our response so far?” asked Brzezinski. “Negligence, avoidance, criminal? Just a severe lack of ability to process, how would you characterize the way this White House and this president is responding to this pandemic?” Klain replied: “Well, I think it’s been focused on all the wrong things. I think that there’s been this obsession with trying to protect the level of the stock market. That’s really what’s driven the president’s reaction to this. It’s why he spent all of January and February denying the existence of the virus or denying it was going to be serious, or saying it’d be under control. We’ve seen a failure of leadership from start to finish here.”
Throughout 2020, Klain worked as a senior advisor to Joe Biden’s presidential campaign, playing a particularly important role in preparing Biden for his debates with the incumbent president, Donald Trump. He also advised candidate Biden on how to speak about the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a January 2020 tweet, Klain referred to the burgeoning COVID-19 contagion as the “Wuhan virus”: “The level of concern over the ‘Wuhan virus’ is escalating quickly here in the US and globally. Is the Trump admin equipped to manage this? Lots of great career people in the agencies — but something like this requires leadership at the top.”
In a separate tweet which he posted the following day, Klain wrote: “We don’t yet know how large a the ‘Wuhan’ Coronavirus poses. But sooner or later, a pandemic is coming our way, and the world is not ready.”
Notably, neither the media nor the Biden presidential campaign criticized Klain for his remarks — in stark contrast to the many criticisms that Trump subsequently received for emphasizing the virus’ Chinese origins. Biden, for instance, said: “This is no time for Donald Trump’s record of hysteria and xenophobia-hysterical xenophobia and fear mongering to lead the way instead of science.”
During the November 15, 2020 broadcast of NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Klain indicated that the forthcoming Biden administration planned to impose a nationwide mask mandate as a measure by which to combat the coronavirus pandemic. Klain also stated that in the meantime, state governments should impose their own mask mandates: “It’s a very grave situation. Back in September, then-candidate Joe Biden warned [that] America was headed to a very dark winter if the administration didn’t step up its action. And the very first business day of his transition on Monday of this week, the president-elect met with his COVID task force and made a public statement afterwards where he called on all Americans to mask up. He urged governors to impose masking mandates now and reiterated the fact when he becomes president, he will impose one on a nationwide basis.”
On September 28, 2021, Klain stated that a mandate requiring all Americans to receive a COVID vaccine would be crucial to helping the nation emerge from the deadly pandemic. “Vaccine requirements work — making all of us safer,” he tweeted.
In October 2022, the United States Office of Special Counsel found that Klain had violated the Hatch Act, a federal law barring government employees from engaging in campaign-related activity. As The Washington Free Beacon reported: “The violation occurred earlier this year when Klain retweeted the left-wing political action committee Strike PAC on May 22, the Office of Special Counsel said … The tweet thanked President Joe Biden for delivering infant formula to the United States amid a national shortage, and linked to the commitee’s online store. Such conduct is illegal.”
On January 22, 2023, The Hill reported that Jeff Zients, who had served as President Biden’s COVID-19 czar until April 2022, would soon replace Klain as White House chief of staff. “Zients was director of the National Economic Council under former President Obama and before that was acting director of the Office of Management and Budget,” said the report. “Between the Obama and Biden administrations, he was chief executive officer of an investment firm, Cranemere, and was on the board of directors of Facebook…. Prior to government, Zients was a management consultant for Mercer Management Consulting … He also was CEO and chairman of the Advisory Board Company alongside David Bradley, the former owner of The Atlantic.”
During a February 1, 2023 interview on MSNBC’s The Last Word, Klain stated that President Biden’s leadership throughout the U.S. military’s evacuation from Afghanistan in 2021 “was a tremendous humanitarian achievement for the many lives that were saved.” While acknowledging that the August 26, 2021 suicide bombing in Kabul that killed 13 U.S. servicemen plus 173 additional people “was just clearly our saddest day, our hardest day, our most horrific day,” he added:
“Look — but I think it’s also important for people to remember that we did airlift 180,000 people out of Kabul, in the largest airlift this country ever achieved. There are 180,000 people who have new lives because of the heroism and the courage of the men and women who flew those planes, who protected those gates, who guarded that airport, who loaded those planes. That entire multi-thousand-person unit in Kabul really changed and saved 180,000 lives. And look, I know we’ve been criticized for the president’s policy decision there, but we ended America’s longest war. [The year] 2022, the year we just finished, is the first year this century where no American died in combat in Afghanistan. So, it was time for that war to end. It’s always hard to end a war. Those 13 brave people who lost their lives, the others who were injured at the Abbey Gate in Kabul, that was a horrible, horrible price to pay. But I do think that the evacuation was a tremendous humanitarian achievement for the many lives that were saved. And I think ending the war in Afghanistan was the right decision.”
On November 20, 2023, Airbnb announced that Klain would be joining the company as its chief legal officer on January 1, 2024.
Klain is married to Monica Medina, who served as a leading National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration official during President Obama’s first term in office.