Jan 25, 2023 - Politics & Policy

Biden's second-year turnover problem

Share of "A-Team" turnover in the first two years of a U.S. presidency
Data: Kathryn Dunn Tenpas; Brookings Institution; Chart: Kavya Beheraj/Axios

There was a substantial increase in turnover among President Biden's senior staff during the second year of his presidency, per a Brookings Institution report.

Why it matters: The departure of 21 out of 66 "A-Team" officials puts Biden's turnover rate at the second highest since Ronald Reagan's presidency, though Biden's first-year turnover was low compared to former President Trump's.

  • Predecessors like former President Obama and former President George H.W. Bush had similar first-year numbers but avoided second-year spikes.
  • After two years in office, Biden had a cumulative turnover rate of 40% among his most senior advisers, compared to Reagan's 57% and Trump's 66%.

Between the lines: The Biden White House is about to undergo some significant personnel changes with the expected departure of White House chief of staff Ron Klain, and upcoming reshuffling ahead of Biden's potential 2024 re-election campaign.

  • "Turnover is going to be high in year three," Kathryn Dunn Tenpas, who authored the Brookings report, tells Axios.
  • She attributes it to both movement to the campaign side and policy-focused staffers realizing that policy will be dwarfed by politics in the next two years.
  • Tenpas measured turnover in senior-staff positions that don't need to be confirmed by the Senate.

What they're saying: "I think part of the reason there was a big uptick in year two is because year one [turnover] was so low—it was only five individuals," Tenpas said.

  • "A lot of times you see the turnovers just scattered, but this time it was concentrated. ... There was a cleaning out of White House Counsel's office at the senior level ... that's usual."

The intrigue: Nearly a quarter of the turnover happened at the White House Counsel's office, with the departure of former White House Counsel Dana Remus and three other senior counsels.

  • Another three senior staffers left Vice President Kamala Harris' office, including Harris' former chief Tina Flourney.
  • Other significant departures include former COVID-19 response coordinator Jeff Zients, who is expected to be the next chief of staff, White House press secretary Jen Psaki, national climate adviser Gina McCarthy and director of management and administration Anne Filipic.
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