Meet the new chief of staff

Denis McDonough won't be able to ride to work anymore

Denis McDonough's proximity to President Obama has made many of his colleagues terrible jealous.
(Image credit: CC BY: The White House)

The first thing you learn about Denis McDonough, the man President Obama will probably select as his next chief of staff, is that he is an addict. His addiction isn't dangerous, but it is one he will have to do without, what with his new cabinet status and Secret Service detail. McDonough likes to sweat. He bikes to work, even in the most treacherous conditions. It's when he does his best thinking. (Random tip: Work on your toughest work or personal priorities right when you get up, before you do anything else. Your brain is primed for it.)

The second thing to know about McDonough is that his top qualification is that the president trusts him more than just about any other adviser. McDonough has foreign policy experience, but it really is better described as experience with Obama's foreign policy, which he has shaped as much as Tom Donilon, the current national security adviser, Susan Rice, or Ben Rhodes, who has been Obama's national security wordsmith. McDonough's proximity to Obama has made many of his colleagues terribly envious. It has caused friction, at times, between members of the national security inter-agency process, some of whom believe that McDonough has Obama's ear and thus holds all the implied power of the presidency. The truth is less conspiratorial; McDonough is less a consiglieri than the capo di tutti capi. Why wouldn't a president want an alter-ego who can get done what the president needs to get done? McDonough has been the main action guy, the facilitator, the man who makes things happen for the president since well before Obama won the Democratic presidential nomination. But it is true: Obama has concentrated the policy-making process considerably, and McDonough is the lead convener.

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Marc Ambinder

Marc Ambinder is's editor-at-large. He is the author, with D.B. Grady, of The Command and Deep State: Inside the Government Secrecy Industry. Marc is also a contributing editor for The Atlantic and GQ. Formerly, he served as White House correspondent for National Journal, chief political consultant for CBS News, and politics editor at The Atlantic. Marc is a 2001 graduate of Harvard. He is married to Michael Park, a corporate strategy consultant, and lives in Los Angeles.