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Biden's new chief of staff is latest Clinton vet to come aboard

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Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 14, 2011; 8:38 PM

Vice President Biden named former Clinton administration domestic policy adviser Bruce Reed as his new chief of staff on Friday, the latest move in a reshuffle that has brought several Clinton-era veterans into key roles in the Obama White House.

Reed, a leading centrist Democrat, will assume the role being vacated by Ron Klain. The announcement comes as a number of senior advisers depart - Klain is leaving to run the business and philanthropic interests of former AOL chairman Steve Case - and just days after former Clinton commerce secretary William Daley took over as White House chief of staff.

Reed's hiring suggests a potential rightward ideological shift as well, especially on economics. Along with Daley and former Clinton economics adviser Gene Sperling, Reed encouraged free trade and deficit reduction during the economic boom years of the 1990s. While their return has triggered dismay among liberals, it has delighted moderates who believe the administration needed more experienced hands to manage the economy for the next two years.

Most recently, Reed was executive director of President Obama's deficit reduction panel. If any serious talks over a budget deal or Social Security are taken up, Biden is likely to be in the lead, and having Reed at his side could boost the chances of success, several Democratic officials said.

"If the budget process leads to negotiations on a broader budget deal, Bruce is extremely well suited to play a critical role in helping forge an agreement," said one official who worked closely with the deficit commission. "The Senate would be the center of gravity for brokering a budget or Social Security deal, which is Biden's domain and where Bruce has the best relationships coming out of the commission. The fiscal commission achieved the support that it did in large part because Bruce worked hard to earn the trust of commissioners in both parties and figure out how to address the priorities and concerns of both parties."

Liberal s criticize pick

Though former Clinton policy adviser William Galston called Reed "a terrific choice" for his new post, much of Reed's past work set off alarm bells among liberals. Of particular concern for many was his work on the debt commission, which liberal critic Robert Borosage said was "intent on putting Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid at risk, which would be devastating for the country."

Borosage and others said the recent hires suggest Obama is recreating a Clinton team that, while it may have governed during a time of prosperity, was operating in a different climate - and oversaw much of the financial deregulation that contributed to the crash a decade later.

"Surrounding yourself with Clinton people for an economy that's very different from an economy Clinton dealt with makes you wonder if the president is going to go for a premature drive for austerity," Borosage said.

Stephanie Taylor, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, called the Reed pick an example of "out-of-touch thinking in the White House" and said that it and the Daley appointment could hurt Democrats in the 2012 campaign.

"It is just a sweep for the Rubin faction of the party," said Robert Kuttner, co-founder of The American Prospect, referring to Clinton's treasury secretary, Robert Rubin. "It's really quite amazing."

Domestic policy expertise

During the 1990s, Reed was a key adviser behind some of Clinton's main legislative proposals, from welfare reform to calling for increased use of school uniforms - the latter of which Obama has suggested is the kind of small-bore, symbolic initiative he wants to avoid as president. Reed was also an early supporter of Hillary Clinton during the 2008 presidential primaries. It was Reed who suggested, during one of her debate preparation sessions, that Clinton accuse Obama of offering "change you can Xerox" - a line that came across awkwardly when she used it onstage and drew boos.

In addition to four years as chief domestic policy adviser for Clinton, Reed spent four years in other domestic policy roles, making him a rare, eight-year veteran of the administration. He served as a deputy campaign manager for Clinton-Gore in 1992, and on the staff of then-Sen. Al Gore from 1985 to 1989. After a stint as policy director at the Democratic Leadership Council in 1990, he returned to the group in 2001.

Administration officials took issue with the suggestion that the West Wing is becoming increasingly Clintonized - noting that former White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel was also a onetime Clinton loyalist, and that Reed has as many ties to Gore as Clinton. Reed is close to Emanuel, having authored a book, "The Plan: Big Ideas for America," with him in 2006.

"I've known and admired Bruce for over 20 years," Biden said in a statement. "We worked closely together to pass the crime bill in the 1990s and I've frequently sought his advice and counsel in the years since. He brings a unique blend of experience and perspective to this position and his leadership will be a tremendous asset to my office, and to the entire White House." Reed will also carry the title assistant to the president.

Biden also announced Michael C. Donilon, who joined the vice-president's staff after the 2008 election but departed for a time, will be returning as a counselor to Biden. Donilon's brother Tom is the national security adviser. "His wit, humor and guidance have been missed and we are all very happy to have him back," Biden said of Donilon.

Staff writers Lori Montgomery and Perry Bacon Jr. contributed to this report.


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