White House Chief of Staff

The White House Chief of Staff position is the successor to the earlier role of the President's private secretary. The role was formalized as the assistant to the president in 1946 and acquired its current title in 1961. The current official title is Assistant to the President and Chief of Staff.

White House Chief of Staff
Mick Mulvaney

since January 2, 2019
Executive Office of the President
White House Office
Reports toPresident of the United States
AppointerPresident of the United States
Formation1946 (Assistant to the President)
1961 (White House Chief of Staff)
First holderJohn R. Steelman

The chief of staff is a political appointee of the president who does not require Senate confirmation, and who serves at the pleasure of the president. While not a legally required role, all presidents since Harry Truman have appointed chiefs of staff.

In the administration of Donald Trump, the current acting chief of staff is Mick Mulvaney, who succeeded John Kelly on January 2, 2019, who himself had replaced Reince Priebus as chief of staff on July 31, 2017.[1] On December 8, 2018, President Trump announced that Kelly would be stepping down from his post by the end of the year.[2] On December 14, Trump announced on Twitter that Office of Management and Budget director Mick Mulvaney would become the new "acting" chief of staff.[3][4]


The duties of the White House chief of staff vary greatly from one administration to another and, in fact, there is no legal requirement that the president even fill the position. However, since at least 1979, all presidents have found the need for a chief of staff, who typically oversees the actions of the White House staff, manages the president's schedule, and decides who is allowed to meet with the president. Because of these duties, the chief of staff has at various times been labeled "The Gatekeeper."

Originally, the duties now performed by the chief of staff belonged to the president's private secretary and were fulfilled by crucial confidants and advisers such as George B. Cortelyou, Joseph Tumulty, and Louis McHenry Howe to presidents Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, and Franklin Roosevelt, respectively.[5] The private secretary served as the president's de facto chief aide in a role that combined personal and professional assignments of highly delicate and demanding natures, requiring great skill and discretion.[6] The job of gatekeeper and overseeing the president's schedule was separately delegated to the appointments secretary, as with FDR's aide Edwin "Pa" Watson.

From 1933 to 1939, as he greatly expanded the scope of the federal government's policies and powers in response to the Great Depression, Roosevelt relied on his "Brain Trust" of top advisers. Although working directly for the president, they were often appointed to vacant positions in agencies and departments, whence they drew their salaries since the White House lacked statutory or budgetary authority to create new staff positions. It was not until 1939, during Franklin D. Roosevelt's second term in office, that the foundations of the modern White House staff were created using a formal structure. Roosevelt was able to get Congress to approve the creation of the Executive Office of the President, which would report directly to the president. During World War II, Roosevelt created the position of "Chief of Staff to the Commander in Chief" for his principal military adviser, Fleet Admiral William D. Leahy.

In 1946, in response to the rapid growth of the U.S. government's executive branch, the position of "Assistant to the President of the United States" was established. Charged with the affairs of the White House, it was the immediate predecessor to the modern chief of staff. It was in 1953, under Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower, that the president's preeminent assistant was designated the "White House Chief of Staff".

Assistant to the president became a rank generally shared by the chief of staff with such senior aides as deputy chiefs of staff, the White House counsel, the White House press secretary, and others. This new system did not catch on immediately. Democrats Kennedy and Johnson still relied on their appointments secretaries instead, and it was not until the Nixon administration that the chief of staff took over maintenance of the President's schedule. This concentration of power in the Nixon and Ford White House (whose last chief of staff was Dick Cheney) led presidential candidate Jimmy Carter to campaign in 1976 with the promise that he would not appoint a chief of staff. And indeed, for the first two and a half years of his presidency, he appointed no one to the post.[7][8]

The average tenure for a White House chief of staff is a little more than 18 months.[9] The inaugural chief of staff, John R. Steelman, under Harry S. Truman, was also the last to be a president's only chief of staff, not counting Kenneth O'Donnell during John F. Kennedy's 34 months in office. (Andrew Card and Denis McDonough each served at least one entire presidential term of office under presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, respectively). Steelman also holds the record for longest-serving chief of staff (six years).

Most White House chiefs of staff are former politicians, and many continue their political careers in other senior roles. Lyndon Johnson's chief of staff W. Marvin Watson became the Postmaster General later in LBJ's term. Richard Nixon's chief of staff Alexander Haig, a career U.S. Army officer with his capstone military position being CINCUSEUCOM/SACEUR, later became Secretary of State under Ronald Reagan. Cheney later became a congressman for Wyoming, Secretary of Defense under George H. W. Bush and vice president in the George W. Bush administration. Donald Rumsfeld was another chief of staff for Ford and subsequently served as secretary of defense both in the Ford administration and decades later, also in the George W. Bush administration. Rahm Emanuel left the House of Representatives to become Barack Obama's chief of staff and subsequently became mayor of Chicago. Jack Lew, President Obama's fourth chief of staff, was later appointed secretary of the treasury.


Chris Whipple, author of The Gatekeepers: How the White House Chiefs of Staff Define Every Presidency, loosely describes the role of a White House chief of staff through his interview with former president Barack Obama: "During the last days of his presidency, Barack Obama observed: 'One of the things I've learned is that the big breakthroughs are typically the result of a lot of grunt work—just a whole lot of blocking and tackling.' Grunt work is what chiefs of staff do."[9]

The responsibilities of the chief of staff are both managerial and advisory and can include the following:

  • Select key White House staff and supervise them;
  • Structure the White House staff system;
  • Control the flow of people into the Oval Office;
  • Manage the flow of information;
  • Protect the interests of the president;
  • Negotiate with Congress, other members of the executive branch, and extra-governmental political groups to implement the president's agenda; and
  • Advise the president on various issues, including telling the president what they do not want to hear.[9]

These responsibilities extend to firing of staff members: in the case of Omarosa Manigault Newman, who published a tape she said was made in the Situation Room of her firing by Chief of Staff John Kelly, the chief of staff said that his decision for her departure was non-negotiable and that "the staff and everyone on the staff works for me and not the president."[10]

Richard Nixon's first chief of staff, H. R. Haldeman, garnered a reputation in Washington for the iron hand he wielded in the position—famously referring to himself as "the president's son-of-a-bitch", he was a rigid gatekeeper who would frequently meet with administration officials in place of the president, then report himself to Nixon on the officials' talking points. Journalist Bob Woodward, in his books All the President's Men and The Secret Man, wrote that many of his sources, including the famous Deep Throat, displayed a genuine fear of Haldeman.[11][12]

List of White House chiefs of staff

No. Chief of StaffTook officeLeft officeTime in officePartyPresident
Steelman, JohnJohn Steelman
December 12, 1946January 20, 19536 years, 39 daysDemocraticTruman, HarryHarry S Truman (Dem)
(1945 – 1953)
Adams, ShermanSherman Adams
January 20, 1953October 7, 19585 years, 260 daysRepublicanEisenhower, DwightDwight D. Eisenhower (Rep)
(1953 – 1961)
Persons, WiltonWilton Persons
October 7, 1958January 20, 19612 years, 105 daysRepublicanEisenhower, DwightDwight D. Eisenhower (Rep)
(1953 – 1961)
O'Donnell, KennethKenneth O'Donnell
[lower-alpha 1]
January 20, 1961November 22, 19632 years, 306 daysDemocraticKennedy, JohnJohn F. Kennedy (Dem)
(1961 – 1963)
Watson, MarvinMarvin Watson
[lower-alpha 1]
February 1, 1965April 26, 19683 years, 85 daysDemocraticJohnson, LyndonLyndon B. Johnson (Dem)
(1963 – 1969)
Jones, JamesJames R. Jones
(born 1939)
[lower-alpha 1]
April 26, 1968January 20, 1969269 daysDemocraticJohnson, LyndonLyndon B. Johnson (Dem)
(1963 – 1969)
Haldeman, HarryH. R. Haldeman
January 20, 1969April 30, 19734 years, 100 daysRepublicanNixon, RichardRichard Nixon (Rep)
(1969 – 1973)
April 30, 1973 – May 4, 1973 (4 days)
Haig, AlexanderAlexander Haig
May 4, 1973September 21, 19741 year, 140 daysRepublicanNixon, RichardRichard Nixon (Rep)
(1969 – 1973)
Gerald Ford (Rep)
(1974 – 1977)
Rumsfeld, DonaldDonald Rumsfeld
(born 1932)
September 21, 1974November 20, 19751 year, 60 daysRepublicanFord, GeraldGerald Ford (Rep)
(1974 – 1977)
Cheney, DickDick Cheney
(born 1941)
November 20, 1975January 20, 19771 year, 61 daysRepublicanFord, GeraldGerald Ford (Rep)
(1974 – 1977)
January 20, 1977 – July 18, 1979 (2 years, 179 days)
Jordan, HamiltonHamilton Jordan
July 18, 1979June 11, 1980329 daysDemocraticCarter, JimmyJimmy Carter (Dem)
(1977 – 1981)
Watson, JackJack Watson
(born 1938)
June 11, 1980January 20, 1981223 daysDemocraticCarter, JimmyJimmy Carter (Dem)
(1977 – 1981)
Baker, JamesJames Baker
(born 1930)
January 20, 1981February 4, 19854 years, 15 daysRepublicanReagan, RonaldRonald Reagan (Rep)
(1981 – 1989)
Regan, DonaldDonald Regan
February 4, 1985February 27, 19872 years, 23 daysRepublicanReagan, RonaldRonald Reagan (Rep)
(1981 – 1989)
Baker, HowardHoward Baker
February 27, 1987July 1, 19881 year, 125 daysRepublicanReagan, RonaldRonald Reagan (Rep)
(1981 – 1989)
Duberstein, KennethKenneth Duberstein
(born 1944)
July 1, 1988January 20, 1989203 daysRepublicanReagan, RonaldRonald Reagan (Rep)
(1981 – 1989)
Sununu, JohnJohn Sununu
(born 1939)
January 20, 1989December 16, 19912 years, 330 daysRepublicanBush, GeorgeGeorge H. W. Bush (Rep)
(1989 – 1993)
Skinner, SamuelSamuel Skinner
(born 1938)
December 16, 1991August 23, 1992251 daysRepublicanBush, GeorgeGeorge H. W. Bush (Rep)
(1989 – 1993)
Baker, JamesJames Baker
(born 1930)
August 23, 1992January 20, 1993150 daysRepublicanBush, GeorgeGeorge H. W. Bush (Rep)
(1989 – 1993)
McLarty, MackMack McLarty
(born 1946)
January 20, 1993July 17, 19941 year, 178 daysDemocraticClinton, BillBill Clinton (Dem)
(1993 – 2001)
Panetta, LeonLeon Panetta
(born 1938)
July 17, 1994January 20, 19972 years, 187 daysDemocraticClinton, BillBill Clinton (Dem)
(1993 – 2001)
Bowles, ErskineErskine Bowles
(born 1945)
January 20, 1997October 20, 19981 year, 273 daysDemocraticClinton, BillBill Clinton (Dem)
(1993 – 2001)
Podesta, JohnJohn Podesta
(born 1949)
October 20, 1998January 20, 20012 years, 92 daysDemocraticClinton, BillBill Clinton (Dem)
(1993 – 2001)
Card, AndrewAndrew Card
(born 1947)
January 20, 2001April 14, 20065 years, 84 daysRepublicanBush, GeorgeGeorge W. Bush (Rep)
(2001 – 2009)
Bolten, JoshuaJoshua Bolten
(born 1954)
April 14, 2006January 20, 20092 years, 281 daysRepublicanBush, GeorgeGeorge W. Bush (Rep)
(2001 – 2009)
Emanuel, RahmRahm Emanuel
(born 1959)
January 20, 2009October 1, 20101 year, 254 daysDemocraticObama, BarackBarack Obama (Dem)
(2009 – 2017)
Rouse, PetePete Rouse
(born 1946)
[lower-alpha 2]
October 1, 2010January 13, 2011104 daysDemocraticObama, BarackBarack Obama (Dem)
(2009 – 2017)
Daley, WilliamBill Daley
(born 1948)
January 13, 2011January 27, 20121 year, 14 daysDemocraticObama, BarackBarack Obama (Dem)
(2009 – 2017)
Lew, JackJack Lew
(born 1955)
January 27, 2012January 20, 2013359 daysDemocraticObama, BarackBarack Obama (Dem)
(2009 – 2017)
McDonough, DenisDenis McDonough
(born 1969)
January 20, 2013January 20, 20174 years, 0 daysDemocraticObama, BarackBarack Obama (Dem)
(2009 – 2017)
Priebus, ReinceReince Priebus
(born 1972)
January 20, 2017July 31, 2017192 daysRepublicanTrump, DonaldDonald Trump (Rep)
(since 2017)
Kelly, JohnJohn F. Kelly
(born 1950)
July 31, 2017January 2, 20191 year, 154 daysIndependentTrump, DonaldDonald Trump (Rep)
(since 2017)
Mulvaney, MickMick Mulvaney
(born 1967)
[lower-alpha 3]
January 2, 2019Incumbent344 daysRepublicanTrump, DonaldDonald Trump (Rep)
(since 2017)

See also


  1. De facto, as Appointments Secretary.
  2. Pete Rouse served as ad interim White House Chief of Staff following the resignation of Rahm Emanuel and until the appointment of Bill Daley.
  3. Mick Mulvaney serves as "Acting White House Chief of Staff" following the resignation of John Kelly.


  1. Palmeri, Tara; Dawsey, Josh; Isenstadt, Alex (July 27, 2017). "Trump names Gen. John Kelly as chief of staff, Priebus out". Politico. Retrieved July 28, 2017.
  2. Karni, Annie; Haberman, Maggie (2018-12-08). "John Kelly to Step Down as Trump, Facing New Perils, Shakes Up Staff". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2018-12-10.
  3. Trump, Donald J. [@realDonaldTrump] (2018-12-14). "I am pleased to announce that Mick Mulvaney, Director of the Office of Management & Budget, will be named Acting White House Chief of Staff, replacing General John Kelly, who has served our Country with distinction. Mick has done an outstanding job while in the Administration..." (Tweet). Retrieved 2018-12-14 via Twitter.
  4. Swanson, Ian (2018-12-14). "Trump names Mulvaney acting chief of staff". TheHill. Retrieved 2018-12-14.
  5. "New Quarters". Time. 1934-12-17. Retrieved 2008-05-08.
  6. "An Appointment". Time. 1923-08-20. Retrieved 2009-05-09.
  7. "Hamilton Jordan, Carter's Right Hand, Dies at 63". The New York Times. 21 May 2008. Retrieved 7 March 2016.
  8. "The Presidency and the Political System". Retrieved 7 March 2016.
  9. Whipple, Chris. (2017). The Gatekeepers: How the White House Chiefs of Staff Define Every Presidency. New York: Crown Publishing Group.
  10. "Transcript". CNN. August 13, 2018.
  11. Woodward, Bob; Bernstein, Carl. (1974) All the President's Men. New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 978-0-671-21781-5
  12. Woodward, Bob. (2005). The Secret Man. New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0-7432-8715-0
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