Daley visits White House as Obama prepares to make sweeping staff changes

Press secretary Robert Gibbs is stepping down after two years in President Obama's administration.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 5, 2011; 10:30 PM

Former commerce secretary William Daley paid a furtive visit to the White House on Wednesday, adding to speculation that he is the clear front-runner to become President Obama's new chief of staff.

Administration officials said they did not think that Daley was given a formal job offer while he was there and insisted that Obama had not made any decisions about the role. But they said an announcement could come as soon as Friday, as Obama rolls out his most sweeping series of staff changes since taking office.

As many as eight key jobs will soon be filled in an administration-wide game of musical chairs, among them the role of press secretary. Robert Gibbs, who has served in that job for the past two years, confirmed Wednesday that he is leaving the administration, saying he will play an outside advisory role and give speeches.

Although there have been discussions about two possible candidates as a new press secretary - Gibbs's deputy, Bill Burton, and Jay Carney, the communications director for Vice President Biden - administration officials said the search was only just beginning.

Former campaign manager David Plouffe joins the administration Monday and is said to want a hand in hiring the next press secretary, which will fall under his jurisdiction.

Obama has said he would like to get his staff settled quickly. His State of the Union address, now less than three weeks away, will serve as the kickoff for the second half of his first term, as well as a template for how he launches his reelection bid - leaving him little time for the reshuffling.

Burton, 33, a longtime Obama aide, has been the sole surrogate for Gibbs, taking the podium a handful of times in the White House briefing room and conducting more than 50 briefings on Air Force One or on the road. If chosen, he would be the first African American press secretary. But he is relatively young, which some advisers have said could be a drawback.

Carney, 45, a former reporter and bureau chief for Time magazine, has helped revamp the image of a gaffe-prone Biden and been the rare outsider to find acceptance in the Obama circle. But he has not been tested at the podium before reporters - the central challenge of the job - and he has not managed communications during the cauldron of a political campaign.

Obama also is expected Friday to name treasury official Gene Sperling as the new head of the National Economic Council during a visit to a window manufacturer in the D.C. area. Sperling led the council under President Bill Clinton and would replace the departing Lawrence Summers.

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