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.
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, January 5, 2011; 11:46 AM

Robert Gibbs told White House staffers Wednesday that he is leaving his post as President Obama's press secretary, ending a two-year tenure that made him the face of the White House as he sparred with reporters and defended administration policies.

Gibbs plans to leave in early February and to become an outside political adviser for Obama's 2012 reelection campaign, administration officials said. A successor is expected to be announced in the next couple of weeks.

Gibbs, 39, an affable Democrat from Alabama, has worked with Obama since 2004, becoming a confidant of the senator from Illinois and serving as communications director for his 2008 presidential campaign. According to three Democrats with White House knowledge, Gibbs in recent weeks had been exploring the possibility of leaving the White House, perhaps to set up his own consulting shop and play a leading role in the 2012 campaign.

The move came a day after Obama returned from a Christmas vacation in Hawaii, arriving at the White House to weigh 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. The Democratic sources, like others cited in this article, asked not to be named in order to speak freely about private deliberations.

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.

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.

Said to be in the running to replace Gibbs as press secretary are one of his deputies, Bill Burton, and Vice President Biden's communications director, Jay Carney.

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.

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