Obama White House reshuffles familiar faces

By Al Kamen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 18, 2010; 10:43 PM

Interim Chief of Staff Pete Rouse is slowly working through his mandate from President Obama to retool the White House after the Great Shellacking - talking to lots of people, including Clintonites who survived an even worse debacle in 1994.

We're told not to look for a big announcement; instead, expect a slow rollout through December. No new organizational chart or floor plan, and few really new faces.

But it's looking as though a lot of bodies are milling about. Senior adviser David Axelrod and Deputy Chief of Staff Jim Messina will soon be off to the 2012 campaign. The other deputy chief of staff, Mona Sutphen, wants to ratchet back and spend more time with her family.

David Plouffe of the 2008 campaign is coming in to fill a senior-adviser slot. Energy-and- climate boss Carol Browner - though there's some pushback from her detractors in the Cabinet (well, everyone has those and besides, Obama really likes her) - is being talked about for a move up to deputy chief of staff for policy, replacing Sutphen.

Buzz is that legislative affairs boss Phil Schiliro is going to be moving up, maybe to a deputy-chief-of-staff slot, and could be replaced by Rob Nabors, former deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget. Alyssa Mastromonaco, now head of scheduling and advance and very valued by the Oval Office, is a good bet to move up.

Stephanie Cutter, whose stock probably couldn't get higher, was originally brought in to do health care and now looks to be in line for a major strategic-communications-and-planning portfolio.

Speaking of communications, given the administration's long-acknowledged failures in that department, expect a broad overhaul there. Press secretary Robert Gibbs is expected in coming months to do senior-adviser duty full time, although an old rumor is making the rounds about Gibbs running the Democratic National Committee.

Vice President Biden's press secretary, Jay Carney, could slide over to replace Gibbs, although Bill Burton, the highly regarded deputy press secretary, is a strong option.

About the only newish name being heard is that of Roger Altman, deputy Treasury secretary in the Clinton administration, as a replacement for Larry Summers as head of the National Economic Council. Several people said Thursday that they remembered Altman leaving Treasury under a cloud, but no one could remember just what that cloud was. (Something about withholding information from Congress about the Clintons' Whitewater dealings back in 1994, we recall.)

The way we were

Some 1,000 former Bush administration officials - members of the Bush-Cheney Alumni Association - trekked to Dallas for the groundbreaking ceremony Tuesday at the George W. Bush Presidential Center. That included hundreds from this area going on their own dime to pay their respects.

Former chiefs of staff Andy Card and Josh Bolten and top advisers Karl Rove and Karen Hughes were there, along with a contingent of former Cabinet members that included Condoleezza Rice (State), Michael Mukasey and Alberto "Fredo" Gonzales (Justice), Don Evans (Commerce), Mike Chertoff (Homeland Security) and Margaret Spellings (Education), as well as Bush's White House counsel and briefly Supreme Court nominee, Harriet Miers.

There were some prominent no-shows, such as former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld (well, he was fired, after all), former secretary of state Colin Powell (released on waivers), former attorney general John Ashcroft and former Treasury secretary Hank Paulson.

Probably shouldn't read too much into the absentee list. After all, people at these levels tend to be busy. For example, we recall that Hillary Rodham Clinton wasn't able to attend the groundbreaking for her husband's presidential library in Little Rock in December 2001, because she was "anticipating important floor action" in the Senate that day.

Revisionism, big time

Speaking of the groundbreaking for the Bush library, Dick Cheney was on hand and had nothing but kind words for Bush, despite their sometimes strained relationship. The former vice president was as sharp as ever, though he looked almost cadaverous. (One former official who worked with him didn't even recognize him at first glance.)

But Cheney can't be very happy with Bush's memoir, "Decision Points," which hardly portrays him in the co-presidential role most everyone thought he played in those years.

The 481-page book mentions him on only 48 pages, according to the index. Not bad, but not exactly co-presidential - and worse, it is one short of the number of times Bush mentions Rice.

Then there was the NBC interview last week in which Matt Lauer asked the former president which adviser "was the most insightful and gave you the best advice."

"Hank Paulson gave me very good advice during the financial crisis," Bush said. "Condi Rice gave me great advice for eight years. Colin Powell gave me great advice. Don Rumsfeld gave me great advice. Dick Cheney's advice was consistent and strong."

Fifth on a list that included two people Bush fired? Yikes.

Bush said basically the same thing when Fox News correspondent Bret Baier, in an extraordinary 2007 interview, pressed Bush about how Cheney was seen as the one "pulling the strings" at the White House.

"He was no more influential than Condi Rice or a Bob Gates or a Steve Hadley," Bush told Baier. "And the thing about Vice President Cheney is . . . he is predictable in many ways" because of his strong beliefs.

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