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Gibbs tells staffers he is leaving White House

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs announced he's stepping down from his post in February to become an outside political adviser.

White House officials said for months that they assumed Pete Rouse, picked for the chief-of-staff role on an interim basis, would stay permanently. An affable longtime Senate staffer who has restored a sense of calm after Rahm Emanuel's intense tenure, Rouse was clearly the preferred pick of his underlings. "Everyone over there really wanted Pete to stay, because it made their lives easier," said one Democrat close to the Obama inner circle.

But the notion that Rouse would automatically get the job was a case of "collective wishful thinking," the Democrat said, adding that "the president had questions about his ability to really drive the place."

Another Democrat close to the White House said that Rouse has never made an aggressive push for the post, long insisting he prefers his more anonymous life.

If Daley is chosen as the new chief of staff, he could accomplish several goals at once: He would bring an outside perspective to the White House bubble and would serve as a power broker, managing the West Wing's strong personalities. Daley - who serves on the executive committee of J.P. Morgan Chase - is also seen as someone who could help reach out to business leaders and Wall Street, a constituency the White House has struggled to win over.

People inside and outside the White House emphasized that none of these decisions has been made by Obama, who returned to Washington on Tuesday and who could ultimately conclude that Rouse is right for the job after overseeing a successful lame- duck session.

Although familiar with the Daley family - William is the brother of Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley - Obama did not have a personal relationship with William Daley and wanted to get to know him. The search process has been tightly held, without as much as a mention in senior staff meetings, an administration official said.

'A full plate' for Obama

Personnel decisions will occupy only a portion of Obama's time in the next few weeks. He will slowly start to engage the new Congress, several aides said, and define goals for the coming year through the drafting of the State of the Union address. "The president will have a full plate," senior adviser David Axelrod said.

Still, advisers said it is difficult to advance too many goals without knowing who will carry them out.

Officials have known for months that Axelrod would leave for Chicago this month, with former campaign manager David Plouffe arriving to take a similar role. Officials have also been scrambling to fill a hole at the helm of the National Economic Council.

But there are many more: Both deputy chiefs of staff, Jim Messina and Mona Sutphen, are expected to leave, with Messina moving to Chicago to run the 2012 presidential campaign.

There is an important vacancy at the Office of Public Engagement: Tina Tchen, the director, is leaving to become Michelle Obama's chief of staff. And there is speculation about the political shop, although rumors that political director Patrick Gaspard will leave have circulated for months and not come to fruition. Additionally, the senior-adviser opening created by Rouse when he assumed the chief-of-staff role has not been filled.

Biden said Tuesday that his longtime chief of staff, Ron Klain, will soon depart, another major shift. "For 25 years, Ron Klain has been my friend and adviser," Biden said.

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