US President Barack Obama said on Friday that his new chief of staff is longtime foreign policy adviser Denis McDonough, who has played a key role in all of the major national security decisions of his presidency, including the end of the war in Iraq, winding down the war in Afghanistan and responses to natural disasters in Haiti and Japan.
McDonough would replace outgoing chief of staff Jack Lew, who has been nominated as treasury secretary.
McDonough’s place in Obama’s inner circle was illustrated during the Navy SEAL raid that killed then-al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in May 2011. He is among those whose images are captured in a well-known White House photograph seated in the situation room with Obama and other senior officials watching the raid unfold.
McDonough, 43, becomes the latest link in a chain of staffers elevated to key roles in the Obama White House following years of service within the president’s closely guarded inner circle.
“The president trusts him — perhaps more than anyone else in the White House. And I think he knows the president’s mind perhaps better than anyone else in the White House,” said John Podesta, who served as former US president Bill Clinton’s chief of staff and co-chaired Obama’s transition team. Earlier, McDonough worked as a foreign policy specialist in Congress. Like so many of the president’s senior aides, his work for Obama started during the 2008 presidential campaign, where he served as a foreign policy aide and was a senior adviser on the transition team. In 2009, he became the chief of staff for Obama’s national security staff.
Meanwhile, a federal appeals court on Friday invalidated Obama’s “recess” appointments to a labor board last year, ruling that the move was unconstitutional and dealing a blow to Obama’s strategy of bypassing US Senate Republicans.
The three appointments to the National Labor Relations Board in January last year were made while the Senate was out of town, but potentially available to act on them.
“Considering the text, history and structure of the Constitution, these appointments were invalid from their inception,” it said.
Obama also used such a “recess” appointment in January last year to install Richard Cordray as head of the US Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, although his appointment was not part of the lawsuit.
The suit started as a routine dispute between soda bottling company Noel Canning and the labor board, but lawyers for Senate Republicans seized on the suit as a chance to challenge the appointments.
The case was seen as a test of the limits of the president’s ability to make appointments during a Senate recess, a power that bypasses the Senate’s usual ability to block nominees and that dates to the US Constitution of 1787.