Bear Hugs and Dad Jokes: Ron Klain’s Tearful Goodbye

WASHINGTON — The president and his chief of staff could not hold back their tears.

In a ceremony that was by turns sentimental and surreal, the White House on Wednesday officially said farewell to President Biden’s chief of staff, Ron Klain, who has been by Mr. Biden’s side for more than three decades.

His voice breaking with emotion, Mr. Klain showed off his “favorite souvenir” from the job.

“This plain and simple rock,” he said, holding up a white stone in front of dozens of White House staffers, pausing to pull himself together as the president and the incoming chief of staff, Jeffrey D. Zients, looked on. “It’s always symbolized to me the fact that this team has been rock solid in their support of our agenda and the president.”

Mr. Klain broke some news on his way out: He pledged to be there again for a re-election campaign that Mr. Biden has not yet formally announced (but which the president has said he intends to do very soon).

But mostly, Mr. Klain offered a small glimpse into the human side of the White House, and of jobs that often force people to parrot prepared responses and policy memos instead of giving bear hugs and telling dad jokes.

Mr. Klain — whose mother, Mr. Biden said, was too ill to to attend the ceremony — had emotions to spare on Wednesday.

“This is the best job I’ve ever had,” Mr. Klain said, bursting into tears.

Mr. Biden wiped tears from his own eyes after Mr. Klain, his rock of more than three decades, said he had learned “about being a good father from Joe Biden.”

White House aides in the back of the East Room raised their phones to capture the passing of the torch. At least one staffer — too short to see over her colleagues’ heads — watched a livestream of the event on her phone.

Mr. Klain spoke of his 8:20 a.m. video calls with senior officials in the White House. He prepared the work force for Mr. Zients by saying he would come equipped with free bagels. (Mr. Zients was an original investor in Call Your Mother, a bagel shop in Washington.)

But most of the event was dedicated to tracing Mr. Klain’s time with Mr. Biden.

Mr. Klain had more access and insight into the president than nearly anyone in the White House. He ticked through the president’s legislative successes and many judicial appointments. But Mr. Klain has been there through dark periods as well, such as the violent withdrawal from Afghanistan.

And he spoke just hours after the White House faced uncomfortable questions about the special counsel investigation into the president’s handling of classified documents as the F.B.I. searched Mr. Biden’s vacation home in Rehoboth Beach, Del. (No classified documents were found.)

In the end, Mr. Klain turned away from the president and toward his family.

“For the next two years,” he said, “every day it’s my turn to walk the dog.”

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