McDonough, 43, replaced Jack Lew, whom Obama has nominated to run the Treasury Department. White House officials said Tony Blinken, a national security adviser to Vice President Biden, would replace McDonough as the No. 2 official on the National Security Council. Obama also named Assistant Attorney General Lisa Monaco to replace Counterterrorism Adviser John Brennan, who has been nominated to lead the CIA.
Monaco adds more female diversity among the administration’s top leadership, as Obama seeks to rebut criticism that his national security team, in particular, is too dominated by men. In addition to Lew and Brennan, Obama has nominated white men to head the departments of State and Defense, although this week he also named Mary Jo White to lead the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Inside the West Wing, Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer, who, like McDonough, is a veteran of Obama’s 2008 campaign, will replace Plouffe, the leading political adviser during Obama’s first term.
Announcing the moves in the East Room, Obama lavished warm praise on McDonough, calling him a “consummate public servant” and a “close friend” to everyone at the White House. McDonough, a Capitol Hill veteran who worked for former senator Tom Daschle (D-S.D.), helped set up Obama’s Senate office in 2005, showing him where the bathrooms were and explaining how to pass a legislative proposal, the president recalled.
“Since then, I’ve relied on his intellect and good judgment,” Obama said. “Denis has played a key role in every key national security decision in my presidency.”
Obama also paid tribute to Plouffe, who was sitting in the front row of the audience, saying he earned a “well-deserved reputation as being a numbers genius — and a pretty tough combatant when it comes to politics.”
McDonough will be Obama’s fourth permanent chief of staff, succeeding Rahm Emanuel, William Daley and Lew. (Pete Rouse spent several months as interim chief of staff after Emanuel’s departure in 2010.) McDonough helped guide the military drawdowns in Iraq and Afghanistan and the response to earthquakes in Haiti and Japan. But his personal relationship with the president meant that the Minnesota native’s influence inside the West Wing was far broader.
The devout Catholic also served as an informal religious adviser, helped reach out to minorities and acted as a political strategist and enforcer of internal administration discipline. He is described as a tireless, demanding and sometimes brusque boss who is not averse to dressing down senior staff.