Former White House Chief of Staff McDonough ’92 to hold conversation at SJU

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March 7, 2017

McDonough with President Obama

File photo: President Barack Obama announces his selection of Denis McDonough '92 as his Chief of Staff.

Denis McDonough is returning to his roots — for one day.

“From SJU to the White House: A Conversation with Denis McDonough” is at 2:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 14, at Pellegrene Auditorium, Saint John’s University. McDonough, a 1992 SJU graduate, served as President Barack Obama’s White House Chief of Staff from 2013-17.

McDonough will be interviewed by Matt Lindstrom, professor of political science at the College of Saint Benedict and SJU and director of the Eugene McCarthy Center for Public Policy and Civic Engagement. The event is free and open to the public.

His appearance marks the 100th meeting of the Politics and a Pint series, sponsored by the McCarthy Center. The monthly series features informal discussions on issues related to public policy and politics.

McDonough, a native of Stillwater, Minnesota, came to SJU in the fall of 1988. He played safety for Hall of Fame football coach John Gagliardi, and helped the Johnnies win MIAC championships in 1989 and 1991. He had 12 career interceptions and recorded 171 tackles (70 solo) and 25 passes defended in 38 career games played.

He graduated summa cum laude in 1992, majoring in history and Spanish, and was a student commencement speaker.

But that was only the beginning for McDonough. After earning a master’s degree from Georgetown University’s Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service in 1996, he worked as an aide for the House Foreign Relations Committee, where he focused on Latin America. He then served as a senior foreign policy adviser to South Dakota Sen. and Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, until Daschle lost his re-election bid in 2004.

McDonough also served as legislative director for former Colorado Sen. Ken Salazar, after his election in 2004. He later became a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress.

In 2007, McDonough began his association with Obama when he became the future president’s chief foreign policy adviser. When Obama was elected to his first term in 2008, McDonough joined his administration as the National Security Council’s head of Strategic Communication. He also served as National Security Council Chief of Staff.

On Oct. 20, 2010, Obama announced that McDonough would become Deputy National Security Adviser. It was in this position that McDonough was part of one of the most iconic photos of the Obama Administration — when Obama’s security team watched from the White House Situation Room on May 2, 2011, as U.S. Navy SEALs conducted an operation to capture and kill Osama bin Laden.

On Jan. 20, 2013, when Obama was sworn in for his second term, he appointed McDonough as Chief of Staff — a position McDonough held until Jan. 20, when Donald Trump was inaugurated.

“He (McDonough) follows an esteemed line of Johnnies in public service including, among others, Sens. Eugene McCarthy and David Durenberger and Rep. Mark Kennedy,” said SJU President Michael Hemesath in 2013. “Denis’ professional success is further evidence that a Benedictine liberal arts education is superb preparation for leadership and service at the highest levels of public life, be that in the public sector, the business community or the world’s non-profits.”

In addition to his speech, McDonough will address a “Lunch and Learn” session, co-sponsored by the McCarthy Center and Benedictine Institute.

He will also visit Gagliardi’s “Leadership Lessons” class for an informal conversation in the early afternoon. Lindstrom’s “Intro to U.S. Politics” class will also attend the class session.