Denis McDonough
Official portrait, 2021
11th United States Secretary of Veterans Affairs
Assumed office
February 9, 2021
PresidentJoe Biden
DeputyDonald Remy
Guy Kiyokawa (acting)
Tanya J. Bradsher (nominee)
Preceded byRobert Wilkie
26th White House Chief of Staff
In office
January 20, 2013 – January 20, 2017
PresidentBarack Obama
DeputyAnita Decker Breckenridge (Operations)
Rob Nabors (Policy)
Kristie Canegallo (Policy Implementation)
Preceded byJack Lew
Succeeded byReince Priebus
25th United States Deputy National Security Advisor
In office
October 20, 2010 – January 20, 2013
PresidentBarack Obama
LeaderThomas E. Donilon
Preceded byThomas E. Donilon
Succeeded byAntony Blinken
Personal details
Denis Richard McDonough

(1969-12-02) December 2, 1969 (age 53)
Stillwater, Minnesota, U.S.
Political partyDemocratic
SpouseKarin Hillstrom
EducationSt. John's University, Minnesota (BA)
Georgetown University (MS)

Denis Richard McDonough (born December 2, 1969) is an American government official serving as the eleventh United States Secretary of Veterans Affairs under President Joe Biden since 2021.[1]

McDonough served in the Obama administration as chief of staff at the National Security Council from 2009 to 2010 and as Deputy National Security Advisor from 2010 to 2013. He then served as White House chief of staff for the full second term of President Barack Obama from 2013 to 2017.[2] He was the second-longest-serving Democrat to serve as the chief of staff since John R. Steelman in 1946, and the longest since Andrew Card (5 years, 84 days) during the first and second terms of the George W. Bush administration.

Early life and education

McDonough was born on December 2, 1969, in Stillwater, Minnesota.[3] He was one of 11 children in a devout Irish Catholic family, his grandparents having emigrated from Connemara in the Gaeltacht.[4][5]

McDonough graduated from Stillwater Area High School in 1988,[6] then attended Saint John's University in Collegeville, Minnesota[7] He played safety on the Johnnies football team for Hall of Fame coach John Gagliardi[8][9] and was a member of teams that won two conference titles in the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. McDonough graduated from Saint John's University with a Bachelor of Arts, summa cum laude, in history and Spanish in 1992. After graduation, he traveled extensively throughout Latin America and taught high school in Belize.[8]

In 1996, McDonough earned an MSFS degree at Georgetown University's Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service.[8]


From 1996 to 1999, McDonough worked as an aide for the United States House Committee on Foreign Affairs,[10] where he focused on Latin America.[3] He then served as a senior foreign policy advisor to Senator Tom Daschle.[8] After Daschle's reelection defeat in 2004, McDonough became legislative director for newly elected Senator Ken Salazar.[8] McDonough was a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress in 2004.[3]

In 2007, Senator Barack Obama's chief foreign policy advisor Mark Lippert, a Navy reservist, was called into active duty.[11] Lippert recruited McDonough to serve as his replacement during his deployment to Iraq.[8][12] McDonough continued to serve as a senior foreign policy advisor to Obama during his 2008 presidential campaign.[3][13]

Obama administration

McDonough, seated, third from right in blue shirt, in the Situation Room during the Bin Laden raid.
McDonough conferring with Obama about the Cairo Speech, with Ben Rhodes, on June 4, 2009.

After Obama was elected president, McDonough joined the administration as the National Security Council's head of strategic communication.[10] He also served as National Security Council chief of staff.[14]

On October 20, 2010, Obama announced that McDonough would replace Thomas E. Donilon as Deputy National Security Advisor, who had been promoted to succeed General James L. Jones as National Security Advisor.[15] McDonough was seen in photos of the White House Situation Room taken during the monitoring of the May 2011 SEAL operation in Pakistan that resulted in the Osama bin Laden's death.[16]

On January 20, 2013, at the beginning of his second term in office, Obama appointed McDonough his chief of staff.[7] In February 2013 McDonough urged lawmakers to quickly confirm Chuck Hagel and John O. Brennan to their posts in Obama's national security team, expressing "grave concern" about the delays. McDonough served as White House chief of staff through the end of Obama's second term, which ended on January 20, 2017.

Return to private life

In 2017, McDonough joined the Markle Foundation,[17] a nonprofit that aims to "transform America's outdated labor market to reflect the needs of the digital economy," boost employment opportunities, and expand job training for Americans. As a senior principal,[18] he worked to grow the organization nationwide and broaden its work with governments such as the state of Colorado, public institutions such as Arizona State University, and private companies such as LinkedIn.[19][18]

McDonough is a professor of the practice at Notre Dame's Keough School of Global Affairs and a visiting senior fellow in Carnegie's Technology and International Affairs Program.[20][17]

Secretary of Veterans Affairs (2021–present)

McDonough being sworn in on February 9, 2021
Secretary McDonough with First Lady Jill Biden and Secretary Xavier Becerra, June 4, 2021

President Joe Biden nominated McDonough to lead the United States Department of Veterans Affairs.[21] He appeared before the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee on January 27, 2021. On February 8, the Senate confirmed McDonough as VA Secretary by a 87–7 vote, with six senators absent.[22] McDonough is the second non-veteran to hold this position.[23] Vice President Kamala Harris swore him in on February 9.[24]

Personal life

McDonough is married to Karin Hillstrom.[5] They have three children.[5]


  1. ^ @Transition46 (December 10, 2020). "Working families, veterans, farmers and producers, and those fighting for their place in the middle class will have partners in government once again. This experienced group will help us make it through this pandemic and thrive once the crisis is over" (Tweet). Retrieved December 10, 2020 – via Twitter.
  2. ^ The Washington Post (2013). Denis McDonough to be Obama's new chief of staff. Retrieved 20 January 2013.
  3. ^ a b c d "The New Team". The New York Times. Retrieved December 18, 2020.
  4. ^ "Who is Denis McDonough?". Our Daily Thread. January 25, 2013. Archived from the original on September 5, 2013. Retrieved September 7, 2013.
  5. ^ a b c O'Dowd, Niall (January 25, 2013). "Denis McDonough new Obama Chief of Staff deeply proud of his Irish heritage". Irish Central. Retrieved February 3, 2018.
  6. ^ Boldt, Megan (January 25, 2013). "Denis McDonough: Obama picks Stillwater native as chief of staff". St. Paul Pioneer Press. Retrieved March 16, 2014.
  7. ^ a b "Denis McDonough – Keough School – University of Notre Dame". Retrieved January 21, 2019.
  8. ^ a b c d e f Arthur Eisele (Winter 2009). "At Home in the West Wing: An Interview with Denis McDonough '92" (PDF). Saint John's Magazine. Archived from the original (PDF) on January 4, 2011. Retrieved October 23, 2010.
  9. ^ Thayer Evans (September 18, 2009). "No Whistles, No Tackling and No End in Sight for St. John's Coach". The New York Times. Retrieved October 23, 2010.
  10. ^ a b Garance Franke-Ruta (October 22, 2010). "Denis McDonough: Five things worth knowing". WhoRunsGov. The Washington Post Company. Archived from the original on October 25, 2010. Retrieved October 23, 2010.
  11. ^ Keating, Joshua E. (January 16, 2013). "6 Things You Need to Know About Denis McDonough". Foreign Policy. Retrieved January 22, 2019.
  12. ^ Monica Langley (September 22, 2007). "From the Campaign to the Battlefront". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved October 23, 2010.
  13. ^ "Obama's People". The New York Times Magazine. January 18, 2009. Retrieved October 23, 2010.
  14. ^ Helene Cooper (July 9, 2010). "The Saturday Profile: The Adviser at the Heart of National Security". The New York Times. Retrieved October 23, 2010.
  15. ^ Peter Baker (October 22, 2010). "Obama Making National Security Appointment". The New York Times. The Caucus Blog. Retrieved October 23, 2010.
  16. ^ "Osama bin Laden Situation Room Photo: Where Are They Now?". Time. Retrieved January 22, 2019.
  17. ^ a b "Denis McDonough – Keough School – University of Notre Dame". Retrieved December 18, 2018.
  18. ^ a b "Denis McDonough Joins the Markle Foundation". Markle | Advancing America's Future. February 13, 2017. Retrieved January 22, 2019.
  19. ^ Megan R. Wilson (February 15, 2017). "Obama's chief of staff joins foundation with focus on jobs". The Hill. Retrieved June 27, 2018.
  20. ^ "Denis McDonough". Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Retrieved December 10, 2020.
  21. ^ "WATCH: VA Secretary nominee Denis McDonough testifies in Senate confirmation hearing". PBS NewsHour. January 27, 2021. Retrieved January 31, 2021.
  22. ^ "Roll Call Vote 117th Congress – 1st Session". US Senate. February 8, 2021. Retrieved February 8, 2021.
  23. ^ Shane III, Leo (December 10, 2020). "Biden to name former WH Chief of Staff Denis McDonough as VA Secretary nominee". Defense News. Retrieved December 10, 2020.
  24. ^ Wentling, Nikki (February 9, 2021). "McDonough is sworn in as VA secretary; calls it the 'honor of my lifetime'". Stars and Stripes. Retrieved February 9, 2021.
Political offices Preceded byThomas Donilon Deputy National Security Advisor 2010–2013 Succeeded byTony Blinken Preceded byJack Lew White House Chief of Staff 2013–2017 Succeeded byReince Priebus Preceded byRobert Wilkie United States Secretary of Veterans Affairs 2021–present Incumbent U.S. order of precedence (ceremonial) Preceded byMiguel Cardonaas Secretary of Education Order of precedence of the United Statesas Secretary of Veterans Affairs Succeeded byAlejandro Mayorkasas Secretary of Homeland Security U.S. presidential line of succession Preceded byMiguel Cardonaas Secretary of Education 17th in lineas Secretary of Veterans Affairs Succeeded byAlejandro MayorkasIneligibleas Secretary of Homeland Security