Though he has mostly focused on domestic issues in laying out his second term agenda, U.S. President Barack Obama appears likely to dip into his foreign-policy team in appointing his next chief of staff -- the White House official responsible for making the trains run on time. The latest reports indicate he's leaning toward Deputy National Security Advisor Denis McDonough.
It would be a major promotion: The chief of staff acts as both a key advisor and the staffer with the most influence in carrying out the president's agenda. The post has also frequently been a stepping-stone to cabinet-level -- or higher -- positions for such notables as Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney (under President Gerald Ford) James Baker (Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush) and Leon Panetta (Bill Clinton).
But McDonough, though a ubiquitous presence in the White House and consummate Washington insider, doesn't have much of a public profile. Here are some key facts to know about Obama's new right-hand man.
1. He's Washington to the bone
The former college football star from the small town of Stillwater, Minnesota arrived in the nation's capital in the mid-1990s to attend a master's program at Georgetown University. He was mentored early in his career by CIA legend Cleveland Cram -- a fellow St. John's University alumnus who was by then the agency's in-house historian. Getting his foot in the door on Capitol Hill as an intern for the House Foreign Affairs Committee, McDonough rose quickly, serving as committee staffer, advisor to committee chair Lee Hamilton, and then foreign-policy aide to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle.
It was McDonough who called then junior White House staffers John Yoo and Alberto Gonzales on the night of Sept. 11 to ask what the Senate could do to help -- a process that led to the "Authorization for the Use of Force Against Terrorists," which gave the George W. Bush administration the legal power to launch the war in Afghanistan. He was also Daschle's point man on discussions over the subsequent authorization of force in Iraq. (McDonough would tell journalist James Mann years later that Congress shouldn't have been so quick to agree to the White House's demands.)
After Daschle was defeated in 2005, McDonough worked for a short time for senator -- and future interior secretary -- Ken Salazar, then moved to the Center for American Progress, where he was a senior fellow focusing on foreign policy.
2. He's one of the campaign guys
McDonough, 43, is a textbook example of an "Obamian," Mann's term for the young aides who joined the administration straight from the campaign trail and whose worldview had been shaped more by the post-9/11 years than by the Vietnam war. McDonough was recommended to Obama by their old boss Daschle, one of the earliest prominent Democrats to support the campaign, and worked under Mark Lippert, Obama's main foreign-policy aide and a fellow former Daschle staffer. (According to journalist Bob Woodward, Obama referred to his two main foreign policy advisors as "Thing one" and "Thing two" -- a Dr. Seuss reference.) In the summer of 2007, when Lippert, a Navy reservist, was called up to active duty, McDonough took his place as Obama's main day-to-day advisor on foreign affairs.
McDonough had first joined the administration as head of strategic communications for the National Security Council (NSC). He again took Lippert's place as the NSC's chief of staff in 2009 when Lippert again returned to the Navy, and was named deputy national security advisor in 2010.
According to Woodward, McDonough -- along with Lippert and speechwriter Ben Rhodes -- has been a key member of the campaign "tribe" within Obama's team, competing with the "Hillary tribe" at the State Department and the "Chicago tribe" centered around political advisor David Axelrod. Mann writes that "McDonough, Lippert and Rhodes worked so closely with Obama on foreign policy issues that they almost seemed like a single entity." The White House's top Afghanistan advisor, retired Gen. Douglas Lute, dubbed them less generously "the insurgency."