New West Wing team seems like old times

Tuesday, February 8, 2011; 10:36 PM

The post-election West Wing shake-up appears to be settling down. Now, when President Obama makes a left out of the Oval Office and heads down the hall, he's going to pass by a different - though hardly unfamiliar - group of senior aides.

No more senior adviser David Axelrod, no more deputy chiefs of staff Mona Sutphen and Jim Messina, and no more Rahm. They've been replaced by 2008 campaign guru David Plouffe, deputy chiefs Alyssa Mastromonaco (who's worked for Obama since 2005) and Nancy-Ann DeParle (who's been a top White House aide for two years), and Bill Daley, the new chief of staff, who's the least tied of all to Obama.

Down the right, the president will come to the office of National Security Council Director Tom Donilon, who replaced the first NSC chief, Gen. Jim Jones, in October and was deputy director before that, and Deputy NSC Director Denis McDonough, who worked on the Obama campaign.

New press secretary Jay Carney had worked that portfolio for Vice President Biden for the past couple of years and before that had been a journalist.

Newcomers on the second floor are Jon Carson, a 2008 campaign veteran who replaces Tina Tchen as director of public engagement; Mark Zuckerman, who replaces Heather Higginbottom as deputy director of the Domestic Policy Council; and Gene Sperling, who moves over from Treasury to replace Larry Summers at the National Economic Council.

For an interactive version of the graphic at right, go to

Is that a fact?

Former Arkansas governor and once and maybe future GOP presidential candidate Mike Huckabee was in Israel last week, doing the usual pander about moving the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

But then he offered a jaw-dropper of an idea for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict:

"There are vast amounts of territory that are in the hands of Muslims, in the hands of Arabs," he said. "Maybe the international community can come together and accommodate" the Palestinians somewhere else besides the West Bank.

This posed some problems for our colleague Glenn Kessler, who's writing the Fact Checker, a new column that examines assertions and awards as few as zero and as many as four Pinocchio icons - four being the prize for virtually fact-free claims.

But Huckabee's bizarre musings were not a question of fact - or of Pinocchios - so Kessler asked readers for suggestions on icons he should use to handle such things.

Some suggestions so far: pies in the sky, windmills, fruitcakes, flying pigs, and icicles (for when hell freezes over). Send your suggestions to

At least no one suggested straitjackets.

Whoever their Boehner is

Finally, someone in Washington actually admitted a lack of knowledge about something. The Known Unknown of the Week prize goes to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, for her candor at a briefing with reporters on the situation in Egypt should President Hosni Mubarak step down.

"I am no expert on the Egyptian constitution, never gave it a moment's thought, really, so now I am trying to play catch-up," she said, before saying that it appeared that if Mubarak were to leave, Egypt's speaker of the House would take over and elections would be held in 60 days.

Staying on message

The Obama administration has somehow discovered it might need to tighten up the communications operation a bit so that Cabinet members and senior political appointees in the various departments will be on message.

To that end, the director of media affairs, Tom Gavin, is now moving to a new position as director of Cabinet communications. Theoretically a great idea, though exceptionally difficult given that most members of the Cabinet are Democrats.

History counsels some caution in this effort. We recall back in 2006 how career Agriculture Department folks were e-mailed some political instructions about how to work things into their speeches, such as "President Bush has a clear strategy for victory in Iraq."

The e-mail explained how, when talking about U.S. agricultural activity, they could preface with this: "I'd like to take a moment to talk about a nation that is just now beginning to rebuild its own agricultural production." That would be Iraq, where "revitalization is underway."

Correction of the week

This from the New York Times Magazine on Sunday. (We feel their pain, but this is really funny.)

An article on Jan. 16 about drilling for oil off the coast of Angola erroneously reported a story about cows falling from planes, as an example of risks in any engineering endeavor. No cows, smuggled or otherwise, ever fell from a plane into a Japanese fishing rig. The story is an urban legend, and versions of it have been reported in Scotland, Germany, Russia and other locations.

No cows? Ever? How do they know? All it takes is one. . .

Graphics editor Karen Yourish contributed to this column.

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