Deese, Top Economic Aide to Biden, Will Step Down This Month

WASHINGTON — Brian Deese, who served as President Biden’s top economic adviser and helped craft and negotiate the sweeping economic legislation that Mr. Biden signed into law in his first two years in office, will leave his position in mid-February, according to people familiar with his plans.

The White House will announce his departure on Thursday, the people said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss upcoming staffing changes.

As director of the National Economic Council, Mr. Deese helped to shape some of Mr. Biden’s most sweeping economic successes, including a $1.9 trillion aid package to help pull the nation from the pandemic recession, bipartisan measures to invest in infrastructure, and an energy, tax and health care measure that was the largest federal effort in history to combat climate change.

Mr. Deese’s departure was long planned. He has been commuting since late last summer from New England, where his wife and children live, to Washington. He does not yet have a new job lined up.

The president has not decided on his successor. People familiar with the search process say Lael Brainard, the vice chair of the Federal Reserve, and Wally Adeyemo, the deputy Treasury secretary, appear to be the leading candidates for the job. Other contenders include Bharat Ramamurti, a deputy on the National Economic Council; Gene Sperling, a former director of the council under Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama; and Sylvia M. Burwell, a former Obama aide who is now the president of American University.

The Biden Presidency

Here’s where the president stands as the third year of his term begins.

  • State of the Union: President Biden will deliver his second State of the Union speech on Feb. 7, at a time when he faces an aggressive House controlled by Republicans and a special counsel investigation into the possible mishandling of classified information.
  • Chief of Staff: Mr. Biden plans to name Jeffrey D. Zients, his former coronavirus response coordinator, as his next chief of staff. Mr. Zients will replace Ron Klain, who has run the White House since the president took office two years ago.
  • Voting Rights: A year after promising a voting rights overhaul in a fiery speech, Mr. Biden delivered a more muted message at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta on Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday.

With Mr. Deese’s departure, his allies and colleagues say, Mr. Biden is losing the first and last person he consulted on economic issues and a driving force behind his domestic policy legacy.

Cecilia Rouse, the chairwoman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, called Mr. Deese “an amazing partner as we navigated the rather choppy economic waters over the past two years.”

Mr. Deese’s legacy as director will include the high inflation that plagued the economy last year, which economists attribute in some part to spending from the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan. It will also include assembling the most diverse staff in terms of race and gender in the council’s history.

Mr. Deese hosted weekly breakfasts or lunches with Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen, Ms. Rouse and Shalanda Young, the director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, to talk about policy and build teamwork among agencies that can often compete for the president’s attention.

Perhaps the sharpest criticism Mr. Deese faced as director was when he was appointed, from liberal groups wary of his previous job at the Wall Street giant BlackRock. Those criticisms have quieted down somewhat as liberals applauded the climate bill and other legislation.

“We were very skeptical of Deese’s decision to go to BlackRock and what that portended,” said Jeff Hauser, the director of the liberal Revolving Door Project. “He has worked out surprisingly well.”

Mr. Deese worked on the National Economic Council in the Obama White House, where he helped coordinate a bailout of the auto industry and negotiate a landmark international climate treaty in Paris. He joined Mr. Biden’s presidential campaign relatively late; along with Jake Sullivan, who is now the national security adviser, Mr. Deese helped to fashion a campaign platform that sought to curb global warming by investing heavily in new technologies that could help lower greenhouse gas emissions, like electric vehicles.

Shortly after Mr. Biden was elected, Mr. Deese and colleagues on the presidential transition team began drafting what would become the American Rescue Plan. The week it passed the House, in mid-March, Mr. Deese and other aides huddled with Mr. Biden in the Oval Office to discuss the rest of the president’s plans for economic legislation.

Mr. Deese urged the president to go big, maintaining the cost and ambition of the sweeping expansion of government in the economy that Mr. Biden had promised in the campaign. He prevailed: Mr. Biden later announced a $4 trillion economic agenda.

Mr. Deese helped push that agenda through Congress by building relationships with swing-vote Democrats and moderate Republicans. He and a top Biden aide, Steve Ricchetti, camped out in the office of Senator Rob Portman, Republican of Ohio, in the waning days of negotiations over the infrastructure bill. Surrounded by Ohio sports jerseys, sustained by ordered-in salads, they hammered out the final details of what became Mr. Biden’s first big bipartisan win.

Senators in those negotiations praised Mr. Deese for responding frankly to their concerns, in language that explained how legislative tweaks would affect people and businesses in the country.

“Economists can — they can put you to sleep, and they talk, and when they get done, you don’t know what the hell you’ve heard,” Senator Jon Tester, Democrat of Montana, said in an interview. “That isn’t the case with Deese.”

Senator Bill Cassidy, Republican of Louisiana and a key negotiator in the infrastructure talks, said that Mr. Deese was “a good poker player, and he’s good negotiator. But once the commitment was made, I trusted that the commitment would be fulfilled.”

Mr. Deese brought more climate expertise to the National Economic Council than any previous director, and it was on that issue that his congressional relationships paid the biggest dividends for Mr. Biden. In July, after months of negotiations, Senator Joe Manchin III, Democrat of West Virginia and a key swing vote, signaled to Democratic leaders that he could not support the climate bill Mr. Deese had helped fashion, apparently dooming the effort.

But the following Monday, Mr. Manchin called Mr. Deese, with whom he had built a close relationship, including a zip-lining trip together. Mr. Manchin told Mr. Deese he still wanted to find agreement on a bill and invited him to the Capitol to continue talks that also included Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the majority leader.

Mr. Deese barely slept for the next week, colleagues say, as the negotiations wore on in secret and ultimately produced the Inflation Reduction Act.

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