Denis McDonough

Denis Richard McDonough (born December 2, 1969) was the 26th White House Chief of Staff, succeeding Jack Lew at the start of U.S. President Barack Obama's second term.[1]

Denis McDonough
26th White House Chief of Staff
In office
January 20, 2013  January 20, 2017
PresidentBarack Obama
Preceded byJack Lew
Succeeded byReince Priebus
United States Deputy National Security Advisor
In office
October 20, 2010  January 20, 2013
PresidentBarack Obama
Preceded byThomas Donilon
Succeeded byTony Blinken
Personal details
Denis Richard McDonough

(1969-12-02) December 2, 1969
Stillwater, Minnesota, U.S.
Political partyDemocratic
Spouse(s)Karin Hillstrom
EducationSt. John's University, Minnesota (BA)
Georgetown University (MS)

Early life

McDonough was born on December 2, 1969, in Stillwater, Minnesota.[2] He is one of eleven children of Kathleen Marie (O'Mahony) and William Joseph McDonough.[3][4] He was raised in a devout Irish Catholic family, his grandparents having immigrated from Connemara Gaeltacht.[5][6]

McDonough attended Saint John's University in Collegeville, Minnesota,[7] where he played safety on the Johnnies football team for Hall of Fame coach John Gagliardi.[8][9] McDonough was a member of teams that won two conference titles in the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.[8] McDonough graduated from Saint John's University with a B.A. summa cum laude in history and Spanish in 1992.[8] After graduation, McDonough traveled extensively throughout Latin America and taught high school in Belize.[8]

He graduated from Georgetown University's Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service with an MSFS degree in 1996.[8]

Early career

From 1996 to 1999, McDonough worked as an aide to the House Foreign Affairs Committee,[10] where he focused on Latin America.[2] McDonough then served as a senior foreign policy advisor to Senator Tom Daschle.[8] After Daschle's re-election defeat in 2004, McDonough became legislative director for newly elected Senator Ken Salazar.[8] McDonough later served as a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress in 2004.[2]

In 2007, Senator Barack Obama's chief foreign policy advisor Mark Lippert, a Navy reservist, was called into active duty.[11] Lippert recruited McDonough to serve as his replacement during Lippert's deployment to Iraq.[8][12] McDonough continued to serve as a senior foreign policy advisor to Obama during his 2008 presidential campaign.[2][13]

Obama administration

After President Obama's election, he joined the administration as the National Security Council's head of Strategic Communication.[10] He also served as National Security Council Chief of Staff.[14]

On October 20, 2010, President Barack Obama announced that McDonough would be replacing Thomas E. Donilon as Deputy National Security Advisor, who had been promoted to succeed General James L. Jones as National Security Advisor.[15] McDonough was seen in photos of the White House Situation Room taken during the monitoring of the SEAL operation in Pakistan that resulted in the death of Osama bin Laden in May 2011.[16]

On January 20, 2013, at the beginning of his second term in office, Obama appointed McDonough as his Chief of Staff.[7] In February 2013 McDonough urged lawmakers to quickly confirm Chuck Hagel and John O. Brennan to their posts in Obama's national security team, expressing "grave concern" about the delays.

As Chief of Staff, the former Congressional staffer made greater outreach to Republican Senators a major priority, with one Republican referring to his tenure as Chief of Staff as "a breath of fresh air".[17]

Post Administration

In 2017, McDonough joined the Markle Foundation.[18] The organization is putting a focus on boosting employment opportunities and expanding job training for Americans, it said. McDonough is coming to Markle as a senior principal,[19] where he will help broaden the partnership between the foundation and other organizations, including governments and public institutions, aiming to "transform America's outdated labor market to reflect the needs of the digital economy," according to the organization.[20] Markle has a public-private initiative called Skillful, which helps workers gain new skills through certificate programs, online training, community college, and college courses. McDonough will work to build up Skillful's partnerships — which already include LinkedIn, the state of Colorado, Arizona State University, and others — and develop a strategy to grow the organization nationwide.[19]

McDonough is also a visiting senior fellow in Carnegie's Technology and International Affairs Program and an executive fellow of the Global Policy Initiative at Notre Dame's Keough School of Global Affairs.[21][22]

Personal life

McDonough is married to Karin Hillstrom.[6] They have three children.[6]


  1. The Washington Post (2013). Denis McDonough to be Obama's new chief of staff. Retrieved 20 January 2013.
  2. Michael Cooper (November 23, 2008). "The New Team". The New York Times. Retrieved October 23, 2010.
  3. George Thole (April 17, 2008). "Thole: Remember sacrifices of those who serve". Stillwater Gazette. Retrieved October 23, 2010.
  5. "Who is Denis McDonough?". Our Daily Thread. 2013-01-25. Archived from the original on 2013-09-05. Retrieved 2013-09-07.
  6. O'Dowd, Niall (2013-01-25). "Denis McDonough new Obama Chief of Staff deeply proud of his Irish heritage". Irish Central. Retrieved 2018-02-03.
  7. "Denis McDonough – Keough School – University of Notre Dame". Retrieved 2019-01-21.
  8. Arthur Eisele (Winter 2009). "At Home in the West Wing: An Interview with Denis McDonough '92" (PDF). Saint John's Magazine. Archived from the original (PDF) on January 4, 2011. Retrieved October 23, 2010.
  9. Thayer Evans (September 18, 2009). "No Whistles, No Tackling and No End in Sight for St. John's Coach". The New York Times. Retrieved October 23, 2010.
  10. Garance Franke-Ruta (October 22, 2010). "Denis McDonough: Five things worth knowing". WhoRunsGov. The Washington Post Company. Archived from the original on October 25, 2010. Retrieved October 23, 2010.
  11. Keating, Joshua E. "6 Things You Need to Know About Denis McDonough". Foreign Policy. Retrieved 2019-01-22.
  12. Monica Langley (September 22, 2007). "From the Campaign to the Battlefront". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved October 23, 2010.
  13. "Obama's People". The New York Times Magazine. January 18, 2009. Retrieved October 23, 2010.
  14. Helene Cooper (July 9, 2010). "The Saturday Profile: The Adviser at the Heart of National Security". The New York Times. Retrieved October 23, 2010.
  15. Peter Baker (October 22, 2010). "Obama Making National Security Appointment". The New York Times. The Caucus Blog. Retrieved October 23, 2010.
  16. "Osama bin Laden Situation Room Photo: Where Are They Now?". Time. Retrieved 2019-01-22.
  17. Cass, Michael (August 22, 2013). "Sen. Bob Corker explains why he missed Obama speech". The Tennessean. Retrieved August 31, 2015.
  18. "Denis McDonough – Keough School – University of Notre Dame". Retrieved 2018-12-18.
  19. "Denis McDonough Joins the Markle Foundation". Markle | Advancing America's Future. 2017-02-13. Retrieved 2019-01-22.
  20. Megan R. Wilson (February 15, 2017). "Obama's chief of staff joins foundation with focus on jobs". The Hill. Retrieved June 27, 2018.
  21. "Denis McDonough – Keough School – University of Notre Dame". Retrieved 2018-12-18.

Political offices
Preceded by
Thomas Donilon
Deputy National Security Advisor
Succeeded by
Tony Blinken
Preceded by
Jack Lew
White House Chief of Staff
Succeeded by
Reince Priebus
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