When Denis McDonough leaves the National Security Staff (NSS) to become the next White House chief of staff, Antony Blinken, a longtime staffer for Vice President Joe Biden, is expected to replace him, multiple administration sources said.
President Barack Obama has not yet announced whom he will choose to replace White House Chief of Staff Jack Lew, who has been nominated to succeed Timothy Geithner as Treasury Secretary. But several reports have said that McDonough, currently the deputy national security advisor under National Security Advisor Tom Donilon, is Obama's likely choice.
If and when McDonough does leave the NSS, he will leave big shoes to fill, and multiple sources said that Blinken is both his expected replacement and a welcome choice as far as rank-and-file national security staffers are concerned. White House sources also said no final decision has been made on who will replace McDonough.
McDonough, one of Obama's closest advisors and someone who has been with him since his first presidential campaign, has been a key figure on foreign policy decision making in the White House. He chairs the interagency deputy committee's meetings; he is seen as Obama's enforcer, often dressing down officials from other parts of the government when they get out of line; and he has been a key interlocutor with Capitol Hill, often cutting out the White House legislative office to negotiate directly with Congress on issues like Iran sanctions or the New START pact with Russia.
Not all are fans of McDonough's management of the national security policy process. Former Pentagon official Rosa Brooks wrote in Foreign Policy that McDonough is one of a few select staffers who control the policy process. to the chagrin of other top officials, and that he mistreats others.
"Insiders say that McDonough and Donilon can barely stand each other, contradicting each other publicly so often that no one's ever sure who really speaks for the president. Both men are also famously rude to colleagues," she wrote. "President Obama should find some decent managers to run the NSS -- honest brokers who are capable of listening, prioritizing, delegating, and holding people accountable for results."
NSS sources counter that McDonough is liked inside the NSS and that he defends his own staffers with the same vigor he uses to lash out at those at other agencies. Regardless, Blinken is known to have the opposite temperament. He is soft-spoken but intellectual, has been in all the relevant meetings and played a role on several issues, and has a reputation for being detail-oriented and well-informed on the entire range of issues across the national security portfolio.
Before he was Biden's main national security advisor, Blinken was a senior fellow at the Center for a Strategic and International Studies and from 2002 to 2008 was Democratic staff director for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. In 1987 he authored the book "Ally Versus Ally: America, Europe, and the Siberian Pipeline Crisis."
John Hudson reports on national security and foreign policy from the Pentagon to Foggy Bottom, the White House to Embassy Row, for The Cable.