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Denis McDonough, Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, Chief of Staff

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2013 White House / The White House

Denis McDonough, Chief of Staff

(Official White House Photo/Chuck Kennedy)

photo of Michael Hirsh
July 17, 2013

McDonough has a very special relationship with Obama—one that left few people surprised that the president would anoint him chief of staff at the raw age of 43, the youngest in decades. The Stillwater, Minn., native shares a Midwestern sensibility with Obama and has quietly served him for nearly a decade, beginning right after Obama's senatorial election in 2004 and continuing as national security spokesman in the 2008 campaign. During the president's first term, McDonough, as deputy national security adviser, became such a trusted confidant that he had his own direct access to the Oval Office. Then-National Security Adviser James Jones, a Marine general, sometimes found himself eclipsed by the McDonough-led senatorial kitchen Cabinet. McDonough's stringent pragmatism in foreign policy seemed in near-total sync with Obama's, often leaning against military intervention, and he sometimes outweighed then-Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in discussions as well. Even so, McDonough, a graduate of St. John's University in Minnesota and the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service, is known for his politeness, calmness, and humility, and he's as likely to pen a complimentary note to a reporter as he is to criticize what he perceives as an unfair attack on the president. "To so many of his friends and admirers, he's still just the dude from Stillwater," Obama said in naming McDonough chief of staff, calling him "one of my closest and most trusted advisers." Now, McDonough is evolving into Obama's most devoted gatekeeper on domestic as well as foreign policy.

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