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Departing Aide Is at Obama's Side

By Michael A. Fletcher
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 23, 2009

NEWTON, Iowa, April 22 -- One day after stepping down as White House communications director, Ellen L. Moran accompanied President Obama here to visit a plant that makes wind turbine towers.

The president came to promote his energy agenda. For Moran, who rarely travels with Obama, it was a chance to visit a state where she had once lived, while signaling that she harbored no hard feelings about her impending departure.

"It's all good," her presence seemed to say.

Moran is abandoning her high-powered post in the West Wing to become chief of staff to Commerce Secretary Gary Locke. The move, albeit to a post vital to the nation's economy, is widely perceived as a step down. Still, Moran has said that her new job -- which itself will demand long hours and international travel -- better suits a working mother with two children.

Moran's resignation makes her the first senior aide to leave Obama's White House, sparking all manner of intrigue.

Press secretary Robert Gibbs portrayed her departure as one made for personal reasons. "She gets a chance to continue public service and be able to see her family," he said, dismissing any speculation about Moran not meshing with the rest of the staff.

But if Moran fit in on the White House staff, it did necessarily mean the job was the right fit for her.

The former executive with Emily's List, which backs female Democratic candidates who favor abortion rights, supported Hillary Rodham Clinton, not Obama, in the primary.

In some recent administrations, the White House communications director was a high-profile personality who interacted with the media and was often at the president's side.

But Moran's role was behind the scenes, where she focused on communications strategy -- a task she shared with many on the heavily layered White House staff who have a long history with the president.

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