A top adviser to the core group of senior officials at the center of President Joe Biden’s White House is set to depart the West Wing in the coming days.
Remi Yamamoto, senior adviser for the office of the chief of staff, will become the latest senior official to leave the West Wing in a period of transition for an administration in its third year.
The period tracks closely with the turnover timeline of previous administrations, as top aides who played central roles in the presidential campaign or transition and first two years of a White House make way for a new team set to navigate the dynamics of divided government and a likely reelection effort.
“From the very start of the campaign, Remi has been unflinchingly loyal and extraordinarily capable,” Biden said in a statement to CNN. “Her insights, good humor, and work ethic have been an incredible asset to all of us, and I am grateful for her service and friendship.”
For Yamamoto, who was a “day one” member of Biden’s 2020 campaign, a limited public profile belied an integral role in advising, deploying, and defending the tight-knit group of long-time Biden advisers that serve as the central power center of the current White House.
Yamamoto served in communications roles in several Democratic political campaigns before joining Biden’s team in April 2019, bringing some rare external views into a Biden operation defined by advisers that had been with the former vice president for years and, in some cases, decades.
A role as Biden’s traveling campaign press secretary put her by his side throughout the campaign prior to pandemic shutdowns – and inside the small orbit of powerful aides that included future senior White House advisers Bruce Reed and Mike Donilon.
“She really internalized who President Biden is and what the campaign was about,” Donilon said in an interview. “There’s a DNA in this place that comes from what it took to get here.”
That process during a campaign was hardly a straight line, as Biden’s operation and early primary and caucus performances threatened to short-circuit his White House aspirations before the nominating process played out in full.
“There was a real bond that was forged in fire there,” Donilon said.
That bond is constantly referenced by Biden’s senior advisers as a critical component of their first two years in office, including their steadfast commitment to plans and proposals that came under fire or at times appeared to be falling apart.
But it was also a driver in laying the groundwork for Yamamoto’s eventual role in the White House, where loyalty, candid advice and willingness to fight on behalf of Biden or his top officials is prized.
The role itself had little – if any – precedent. Yamamoto’s portfolio placed her as the point person for not just former White House chief of staff Ron Klain, but Biden’s entire six-person senior team including Donilon, Reed and Jennifer O’Malley Dillon, the two deputy chiefs of staff, counselor Steve Ricchetti and Anita Dunn, the senior adviser who runs Biden’s communications operation.
Each went out of their way to praise Yamamoto’s role, with her “loyalty” inside Biden’s leak-averse operation highlighted by several individuals.
O’Malley Dillon, who ran Biden’s campaign before her current role, called Yamamoto “one of the rare, brilliant people who can synthesize policy, message, political strategy, and operational execution.”
Ricchetti called her a “loyal fighter for the president and his whole team since before day one of the campaign,” with Reed noting that “we wouldn’t be here without her.”
“There isn’t a person in this building who won’t miss her, from the president on down,” Dunn said.
Still, despite the long-running nature of each adviser’s place in Biden’s orbit – all but O’Malley Dillon had worked with or around Biden since at least his time as vice president – each oversees their own portfolio and power centers inside a building that historically carries no shortage of rivalries and turf battles.
The role was possible, Klain said in an interview, because of Yamamoto’s approach.
“She always was a Biden campaign, Biden White House person first,” said Klain, who left his role last month.
While she was never able to convince Klain to get a new suit for his television appearances – something he joked about at his East Room farewell ceremony – the 30-year-old Yamamoto became a conduit to the senior team on behalf of more junior staffers in the building.
Klain’s decision to implement happy hours on his patio came on the advice of Yamamoto, who was keenly aware of the view many of her colleagues held of a building that could seem disconnected due to intense pandemic restrictions and a senior team that was so close.
To some extent, advisers said, Yamamoto’s office one floor down from the Oval Office became its own power center – one that doubled as a stop for junior and mid-level staffers seeking advice, counsel or just to vent with a member of the team who served as a bridge between policy, political and communications teams.
“She had the judgment and insight that goes far beyond her years,” Klain said. “And she had the credibility and respect that she’d earned from the first days of the campaign.”
The departure of Klain, whose omnipresent role in the building – at least in part due to his prolific Twitter habits – stayed at the center of Yamamoto’s responsibilities, led many inside the White House to assume she would eventually depart as well during the first significant period of turnover the Biden’s team has faced since he took office.
Kate Bedingfield, another campaign original who served as White House communications director, left the White House last week. National Economic Council Director Brian Deese followed Klain in departing last month.
Klain was replaced by Jeff Zients and Bedingfield by Ben LaBolt. Federal Reserve Vice Chair Lael Brainard filled Deese’s role. The process to fill Yamamoto’s role has been underway for several weeks.
Yamamoto has not announced what she plans to do next, though it will likely include her first significant time back in Hawaii since she signed onto the campaign.
And despite the long-running joke inside the building about her inability to leverage her power to influence Klain’s sartorial approach, she will depart having secured success with at least one member of the team.
“At his farewell, Ron said she failed to convince him to buy a new suit – but my family is forever grateful Remi talked me into it,” Reed said.