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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.

In filling the holes, the White House could create even more vacancies if, as expected, they are filled with current employees. In addition to Carney and Burton, who are possible replacements for Gibbs, Carol Browner is on the short list to become a deputy chief of staff, as is Phil Schiliro, officials have said. As insular as the Daley move might appear, one Democrat said, "all the other moves they will make will be much more insular than this."

In fact, Daley is, in the context of Obama's inner circle, a true outsider: Although from Chicago, he is not someone the president has known for years or worked alongside during a campaign, unlike other key figures he trusts.

Lingering uncertainties

For now, the only certainty is that Plouffe will arrive as early as next week. His exact role was still being sorted out - in part because he and senior adviser Valerie Jarrett clashed occasionally during the 2008 campaign, several officials and outside Democrats said, with one describing it as "not a good relationship."

There were tensions between the senior staff in its last incarnation - Emanuel, Jarrett and Axelrod all had their differences - and officials are worried about starting the new team off on the wrong foot.

Jarrett and Plouffe have reconciled, but advisers are sensitive to giving them overlapping roles - or, as they restructure areas of responsibility, leaving the impression that portfolios Jarrett oversees are being handed off to Plouffe.

Jarrett is in charge of managing the business community, which has had strained dealings with the White House, and public outreach. Her detractors say she should focus on giving advice to the president rather than overseeing external relations. Her advocates say she is the only thing standing between Obama and a tight network of men entrenched in the political culture - and the only one looking out for Obama's interests, rather than her own.

Staff writer William Branigin contributed to this report.

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