WASHINGTON — Calling him “a great friend to me” and “one of my closest and most trusted advisers,” President Obama officially named Stillwater native Denis McDonough his new chief of staff on Friday.
Obama praised McDonough for his work on national security issues — “Denis has played a key role in every major national security decision of my presidency,” Obama said, such as the draw-downs of the wars in the Middle East and high-profile changes to military policy — and his efficient, behind the scenes work at the White House. Calling him a “man of deep faith,” Obama said he’s used McDonough as a liaison to important political constituencies like faith groups and immigration reform proponents.
McDonough is said to be popular among White House staffers and received big cheers when his appointment was announced.
“The truth is, nobody outworks Denis McDonough,” Obama said. “In addition to being an incredible talent and such a hard worker, Denis is also a pretty humble guy. To so many of his friends and his admirers, he’s still just the dude from Stillwater, Minnesota.”
McDonough’s appointment has been, by even Obama’s admission, one of Washington’s worst kept secrets since the president appointed his current chief of staff, Jack Lew, to head the Treasury Department earlier this month. McDonough has been a confidant of the president’s since Obama’s days in the Senate, where McDonough made his name as a national security expert. He has served as a deputy national security adviser since Obama took office in 2009.
McDonough grew up in Stillwater and graduated from St. John’s University, where he studied history and played defensive back for legendary football coach John Gagliardi. (“This does remind me of perhaps the one topic on which we’ll never agree,” Obama said, “which is Vikings vs. Bears.”)
At 43 years old, McDonough is much younger than the three Obama chiefs of staff who preceded him. He lives in Alexandra, Va., with his wife and three children and is known to commute by bicycle to the White House.
Obama joked that those days are behind him now.
“As chief of staff, I don’t think that’s allowed,” he said.
Speaking directly to McDonough’s kids, sitting in the front row of a crowd gathered for the announcement in the White House’s East Room, Obama said, “He does what he does because he cares and loves you guys so much. … He wants to make sure that the next generation is inheriting the kind of America that we all want.”
Devin Henry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.