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Guess which top Obama aide will leave first

By Al Kamen
Wednesday, February 24, 2010; A11

There are growing rumblings that this or that administration official is about to jump (or be pushed) off the Good Ship Obama. There's talk that Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel goes either just before or just after the November elections and that Office of Management and Budget chief Peter Orszag could be moving on after the current budget season ends. (He's got a growing family to feed.)

National security adviser Jim Jones is said to have signed up for only a year, but he may be obliged to stay. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, a holdover who's already been there three years, won't be there forever. And so on.

Such speculation is typical. After all, the average tenure for top government officials is somewhere between 18 months and two years, which tends to mean some departures either before the midterm elections or just after. In the Clinton administration, for example, communications director George Stephanopoulos was moved out of that job after only a few months, and Chief of Staff Thomas "Mack" McLarty lasted less than 18 months. Both stayed on in other jobs.

In George W. Bush's White House, the first bloodletting came just after the midterm elections, when Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill and top economic adviser Lawrence Lindsey were bounced.

Despite all the gossip, it's unclear who's leaving when. So (Loop Fans saw this one coming) it's time for first annual Loop "Outta There" Contest.

Simply guess which Cabinet-rank member (see list below) will be the first to be shuffled. Add the top White House aides -- Larry Summers, Nancy-Ann DeParle and Carol Browner. And let's include the Chicago/campaign mafia: David Axelrod, Valerie Jarrett, Pete Rouse and Robert Gibbs. (We're not including social secretary Desiree Rogers, because of persistent talk that she's already, as they say, keeping her options open.) We'll also include Gen. Jones, Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair and CIA chief Leon Panetta.

Tiebreaker: Guess when your candidate will depart.

Send your entry to outtathere@washpost.com or In the Loop, The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071. Winners will get a coveted Loop T-shirt and the bragging rights that go with it. Deadline for entries is the end of the day Wednesday, March 10.

To be eligible, you must include a phone number -- work, home or cell -- so we can contact you. (Administration and government officials may, if they wish, submit entries "on background." If they win, no names will be used.)

Remember, this is who is going to leave, not who should leave.

The Cabinet: Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. , Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, Labor Secretary Hilda L. Solis, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, Energy Secretary Steven Chu, Education Secretary Arne Duncan, Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric K. Shinseki, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.

Other Cabinet-rank officials: Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa P. Jackson, Office of Management and Budget Director Peter Orszag, U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk, Ambassador to the United Nations Susan E. Rice, Council of Economic Advisers Chairman Christina D. Romer.

Wild cards: Director of National Intelligence Dennis C. Blair, CIA Director Leon Panetta, press secretary Robert Gibbs, National Economic Council Director Lawrence H. Summers, Office of Health Reform Director Nancy-Ann DeParle, Office of Energy and Climate Change Policy Director Carol M. Browner, adviser David Axelrod, adviser Valerie Jarrett, adviser Pete Rouse.

Une petite affaire

Don't mark your calendars! According to an official French communique released Tuesday, President Nicolas Sarkozy is coming to Washington on March 30 to meet with President Obama and have a joint news conference and a private dinner for the two presidential couples.

Alas, this summit will not be a state visit, which could include a dinner with a tent, lots of glitz and maybe the Salahis. Instead, the meeting is styled an "official visit," a much less formal affair. We're that told French presidents, by tradition, do only one state visit to a country during a term in office and Sarkozy had his back in 2007. (News that Sarkozy was headed this way was broken last week by former CBS producer and local restaurateur Carol Joynt on New York Social Diary.)

Sarkozy, invited by Obama for what could also be described as a working visit, comes at a time when European allies are most unhappy with, and feeling snubbed by, the administration. That feeling increased after Obama recently decided to skip the U.S.-European Union summit set for Madrid in May.

Sarkozy, who has been pilloried in the French press for not developing the tight relationship with Obama that the French leader is said to have craved, is also coming back to Washington in mid-April for an Obama-hosted summit with a couple of dozen countries to talk about nuclear security -- the "Loose Nukes" summit.

The North Koreans and Iranians aren't likely to show, but maybe the Iraqis should give the keynote address? After all, they no longer have their arsenal.

Justice delayed

Still no decision on a deputy attorney general. Apparently the powers that be cannot agree on a candidate. A new name has emerged, our colleague Carrie Johnson reports. It's American University law school professor Dan Marcus, a former Justice Department official and White House lawyer who also worked on the 9/11 Commission. But others, especially Acting Deputy AG Gary Grindler, Associate AG Tom Perrelli and Assistant AG for National Security David Kris, are still in the mix.

John Carlin has moved up from deputy chief to be chief of staff and senior counsel to FBI Director Robert S. Mueller. Aaron Zebley, a former FBI agent and now a federal prosecutor on detail to the FBI, will be deputy chief of staff.

Research editor Alice Crites contributed to this column.

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