Meet the White House Power Couple (and Parents of 3!) Who Started Out as College Sweethearts
Ron Klain and Monica Medina President Biden's first state dinner in December 2022
Preparing to become President Joe Biden's chief of staff in late 2020, Ron Klain made a commitment that he wouldn't let the inevitably long hours to come disrupt his tight-knit family. Now, reflecting on a whirlwind two years in the position as he prepares to pass the torch to a new chief on Wednesday, he can depart comfortably knowing the mission was accomplished.
"The kids have always known that they would come first if they ever needed us," says Assistant Secretary of State Monica Medina, who has been married to Klain for more than 36 years. Now grown, Hannah, Mike and Danny Klain have come to expect a daily phone call from Dad, regular check-in texts from Mom, annual family vacations and gatherings for birthdays and holidays.
Ron Klain and Monica Medina Georgetown University, 1979
A Promising Start
Klain and Medina never imagined that they would climb to the highest echelons of government alongside one another, but it's clear to see now that the writing was on the wall. As undergraduates at Georgetown University, where they met in 1979, they each demonstrated a passion for public service and unbridled ambition.
"I ran her campaign for student government," Klain says. "She won." Medina chimes in: "The first presidential campaign."
In the years that followed Georgetown, the couple were married and each earned a Juris Doctor, Klain from Harvard and Medina from Columbia School of Law.
Ron Klain and Monica Medina Their wedding, June 1986
Applying Biden's Lessons on Family
The day after they returned from their honeymoon in 1986, Klain went to work for then-Sen. Biden. He and Medina already knew that they wanted to start a family, but it was through Biden, they say, that they saw a model of how a successful person can parent with heart.
Biden's example would ultimately shape their own approach to parenthood as they built a family while rising the ranks in their individual fields.
"There are three things that I really learned from the president," Klain tells PEOPLE of Biden, who he's worked alongside in various roles since the '80s, including as his chief of staff during the Obama years. "The first is that no matter what you're doing work-wise, family comes first. And that's true."
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Klain says that even today in the Oval Office, Biden will pause important meetings if one of his grandchildren calls. "He is the president of the United States. If he can put aside his work to talk to his grandkids, all of us here can put aside our work to be attentive to our families too." Klain has made an effort to ensure that at every job where he has authority, he sets a similar example that prioritizing family is a perfectly good thing to do.
"The president's example of always calling them, having a daily phone call with them, was something that really struck home from the very beginning," Medina says. "When Ron first started working for the president, his sons and his daughter, Ashley, were still essentially kids ... and that example really helped us to see that you could juggle both. You could be a senator and have this incredible family life."
Ron Klain and Monica Medina Danny, Hannah and Mike Klain with Vice President Joe Biden, January 2011
"The second thing is that the president is just openly affectionate with his children, including his adult children," Klain says. "He's not afraid to put his heart on his sleeve when it comes to family. And I think that's also important to the kind of parent I hope I've become."
The third example that Biden set for Klain in particular was how he set aside the notion of "machismo" fathering and extended those public hugs and I love you's to Beau and Hunter, not just Ashley. "I have two sons myself. And that's been very important to how I think about parenting now," Klain says.
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Ron Klain and Monica Medina Ron, Monica, Hannah and Mike with then-President Bill Clinton, February 1995
Growing Up Klain
While Klain and Medina raised their children with plenty of love, it's true that their high-profile jobs gave the kids some unusual childhood experiences, including run-ins with top politicians of the time.
By the time of President Bill Clinton's first presidential run, Klain and Medina had already become prominent lawyers on Capitol Hill, with Klain serving in various counselor roles and Medina carving out a niche for herself as an authority on the environment.
Klain, who'd worked on Clinton's presidential campaign, began as the assistant White House counsel to the newly elected president, helping secure Ruth Bader Ginsburg's Supreme Court confirmation before serving as chief of staff to U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno. When Klain moved to Reno's team, Medina was already settled in there as the overseer of the Justice Department's environmental division.
Working in the Clinton administration allowed the young Klain kids to meet President Clinton, but it was Vice President Al Gore who would eventually become something of a regular presence in their home.
"When I worked [as chief of staff] for Vice President Gore, it was really before people carried around cell phones. So if he wanted to get me at home, he called the home line," Klain says. "We had one phone at home, and often one of the kids would pick up and have a brief conversation with Vice President Gore."
Medina says that one time, Gore called at an inopportune time, putting their family-first values to the test. "One of our kids was having an allergic reaction to something, and Ron said, 'I've got to go,' because I was out of town for my job that day," Medina recalls. "And so sometimes even [the vice president] had to wait."
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In 2000, when Klain spent 36 days in Florida as general counsel to Gore's Recount Committee in the aftermath of a heated presidential election, he was forced to miss his sons' birthdays — something he had always hoped to be present for no matter the circumstance. "I always felt guilty about it," Klain says.
He found solace eight years later, when his son watched an HBO documentary on the recount. "We're walking out of this movie and our youngest son, Daniel, turns me and goes, 'So wait, dad, you missed my 4th birthday party?'" Klain recalls. Realizing his son hadn't even remembered the ordeal gave him permission to forgive himself for the occasional slip-up.
"I think balancing work and family means understanding that you're not going to ever be the perfect father, the perfect mother or perfect parent," he says. "The kids are going to be fine as long you're there when they really need you, and have that commitment, that love and trust with them."
Ron Klain and Monica Medina
A Family Settled
In time, Klain, Medina and the three kids have struck a great balance of forgiving one another — and, more importantly, themselves — when work steals a little too much of someone's attention. The trick, they say, is soaking up every moment they're together as a family and finding ways to cherish those memories when life gets busy.
"Before Instagram, Ron was already sort of scrap-booking in a unique way," Medina says. "He made these collages. We did it actually when we were in college. We commemorated every year together with a bunch of souvenirs and funny things that we've given each other, and we just kept that going."
"Each year, Ron puts together a collage of the year's best photos. So we are always surrounded by the memories," she continues. "They're all over our house, just a collage-a-thon."
Ron Klain and Monica Medina The White House, December 2022
With the kids grown and living their own lives — Hannah, 31, a lawyer in New York Gov. Kathy Hochul's office; Mike, 29, a lawyer who worked on Biden's Massachusetts campaign team; and Danny, 26, working in film and media — the family finally feels settled.
As Klain packs his things in the West Wing and awaits his next move, he and Medina, both 61, feel sentimental about the lives they've built and the things they've achieved thus far.
Medina — who herself has made significant strides at the State Department since 2021 in addressing global climate change — sees Klain's time as chief of staff as an incredible feat. Leaning her head on his shoulder, she gushes about the work he's done with Biden. "There's so many incredible accomplishments, from bringing down the cost of prescription drugs to all the new infrastructure that we're going to have that's going to make our country work better."
Plus, of course, she's "so very proud" of the bold environmental commitments included in the Inflation Reduction Act and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill, which she says have directly made her job as the country's top climate diplomat easier. "When I talk to countries, I can now say we are doing our part," she says.
"A few years ago, I'm not sure we could have envisioned where we'd end up today," Medina says. And while tomorrow is still unknown — for Klain, at least — one thing's for sure: He's due for a nice, long nap.