By NEDRA PICKLER
WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama announced Friday that his new chief of staff is longtime trusted aide Denis McDonough, whom the president described as a close friend unafraid to deliver straight talk.
McDonough has been a longtime foreign policy adviser to the president and is popular among the White House staff. Obama made the announcement in the East Room of the White House with McDonough and outgoing chief of staff Jack Lew, who has been nominated as treasury secretary, at his side.
“I know you’ll always give it to me straight, as only a friend can, telling me not only what I want to hear, but more importantly, what I need to hear to make the best possible decisions on behalf of the American people,” Obama told McDonough.
Obama said McDonough has played a key role in all the major national security decisions of his presidency, including the end of the war in Iraq, winding down the war in Afghanistan, responses to natural disasters in Haiti and Japan and repeal of the military’s ban on openly gay service members.
McDonough’s place in Obama’s inner circle was illustrated during the Navy SEAL raid that killed Osama bin Laden in May 2011. He is among those whose images are captured in a White House photograph in the situation room with Obama and other senior officials watching the raid unfold.
Obama complimented McDonough for being so humble, visiting troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan and wounded warriors at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center without fanfare or cameras to learn about the needs of the troops. “Then he comes back here to the White House, and he gets it done. And that’s the kind of focus, but also the kind of heart, that I want in this White House,” Obama said.
He said McDonough also is tough, having been raised in Minnesota as one of 11 children. And he teased that the father of three and former St. John’s University football player “made up for modest talents with extraordinary dedication and a high threshold for pain.”
Earlier, McDonough worked as a foreign policy specialist in Congress, including as a senior foreign policy adviser to former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., before moving to Obama’s Senate office. Obama joked that McDonough showed him where the Senate restrooms were and how to get a bill approved by Congress.
The selection of McDonough was even met by a rare show of approval from a prominent Republican: South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, who described Obama’s new chief of staff as a smart, steady hand respected by members of both parties.
“President Obama’s decision to choose Denis McDonough was wise and I think he will serve the nation well,” Graham said in a statement.
McDonough’s new role was previously filled by Rahm Emanuel, William Daly and Pete Rouse, as interim chief of staff, before Lew.
Obama also bid goodbye to top aide David Plouffe, his 2008 campaign manager, who was leaving the White House Friday. “If it were not for him, we would not have been as effective a White House, and I probably wouldn’t be here,” Obama said.
Other senior personnel shifts were made Friday, including the appointment of Obama chief congressional lobbyist Rob Nabors as McDonough’s deputy for policy. Vice President Joe Biden’s national security adviser, Tony Blinken, is taking over McDonough’s post as deputy national security adviser.
Katy Kale is being promoted from to assistant to the president for management and administration after serving as the deputy for that post. Assistant Attorney General Lisa Monaco, head of the Justice Department’s National Security Division, was selected to take over for John Brennan as adviser for homeland security and counterterrorism once Brennan’s nomination as CIA director is confirmed.
White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer is being promoted to senior adviser. Pfeiffer deputy Jennifer Palmieri will take over as communications director.
Miguel Rodriguez is being named to take over the top lobbying post after serving under Nabors, and Obama campaign staffer David Simas is being named a deputy senior adviser for communications and strategy.
The White House announced Friday that Chris Lu, an aide who has been with Obama since his time as a senator and most recently managed relations with his Cabinet, was leaving his post. The job will be taken over by Danielle Gray, formerly deputy director of the National Economic Council. In a statement, Obama praised Lu for overseeing “one of the most stable and effective Cabinets in history” and said he’s asked him to consider taking on another administration job after he takes some time off.