It’s been a day since President Joe Biden picked Jeff Zients, his former Covid-19 response adviser, to replace Ron Klain as his chief of staff, and the reaction has not been pretty.
Zients comes from the private equity world and is estimated to have a net worth of between $89 and $442 million, according to MarketWatch. He made a lot of this money investing in health care corporations. Zients’s investment fund, Portfolio Logic, featured multiple firms that paid millions of dollars in settlements for alleged Medicare and Medicaid fraud. He was also one of the original investors in the popular Washington, D.C., bagel chain Call Your Mother (one of the few local restaurants the Bidens have frequented).
Zients served under President Barack Obama as director of the National Economic Council and acting director of the Office of Management and Budget. He won praise under Obama for helping to repair the Healthcare.gov website after a bungled rollout, and again under Biden for his handling of the massive Covid-19 vaccine rollout.
But he only served as Biden’s Covid czar for a year, stepping away after the administration was accused of failing to prepare for the delta and omicron waves, sharing confusing messaging about testing and booster shots, and allowing Covid prevention funding to dry up. Both Public Citizen and the Center for Economic Policy and Research criticized Zients’s tenure, particularly his refusal to allocate resources for vaccination efforts abroad.
Jeff Hauser, founder of the nonprofit Revolving Door Project accused Zients of “profiteering in healthcare” and said Biden risks his legacy with the nomination. Progressive groups are worried that Zients will be less amenable to the causes that they and even the Biden administration have championed. Adam Green, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, expressed hope that Zients will prove them wrong.
“Ron Klain has been an open ear and even-handed engager of actors across the Democratic Party,” Green said in a statement. “Whomever the next chief of staff is, that will be the continued hope and expectation.”