Obama weighs major reshuffling of staff

Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, January 5, 2011

As President Obama returns from Hawaii, he is weighing a major reshuffling of his staff that could see as many as eight people taking on new roles in the weeks ahead, Democrats familiar with the changes said Tuesday.

Obama has been mulling for months the possibility of naming former commerce secretary William Daley to be his chief of staff, two Democrats said. He has also considered outsiders, they said.

Another key move could be the departure of press secretary Robert Gibbs. Three Democrats with White House knowledge said that Gibbs, an Obama confidant, is exploring the possibility of leaving the White House altogether, perhaps to set up his own consulting shop and play a leading role in the 2012 campaign. That move could happen in the coming weeks.

The Democratic sources, like others cited in this article, asked not to be named in order to speak freely about private deliberations.

But those are only part of a potentially much larger reorganization that encompasses almost the entire West Wing hierarchy, including those who had the most influence over the administration's direction in the first half of Obama's term.

The changes come as a new Congress, shaped by an emboldened Republican House majority, is preparing to push conservative fiscal initiatives and undo some of what Obama has achieved.

The reorganization seeks to address shortcomings in a White House operation that Obama thought was not as attuned to politics or the interests of the business community as it should have been during his first two years in office.

The staff reshuffling will not necessarily bring new faces to an administration that has been criticized for being insular. Most of the positions in play are likely to go to officials already in the West Wing or to campaign loyalists.

White House advisers have played down the turnover as the kind of routine change-up that all administrations experience at the halfway point. Most of the changes would result from departures, not from a wholesale shake-up that some outsiders have called for in the wake of political losses and legislative difficulties.

The chief-of-staff post

Yet for Obama, shifting members of his inner circle into new roles would be a significant change after two years of unusual staff stability.

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."

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