Obama’s Choice of Daley Puts Focus on Economy, Business Ties

Obamas Choice of Daley Puts Focus on Economy
U.S. President Barack Obama listens to newly appointed White House Chief of Staff William Daley. Photographer: Win McNamee/Getty Images

President Barack Obama named William Daley as his White House chief of staff as part of a series of moves to keep the administration’s focus on the economy, improve relations with business and deal with a divided government.

The announcement yesterday that the JPMorgan Chase & Co. executive will take on a critical role in the White House drew praise from business groups and encouraging words from some Republican leaders.

The president’s choice of Daley and his naming today of Gene Sperling, a counselor to Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, to lead the National Economic Council also set the stage for Obama to lay out an agenda for the second half of his term largely focused on solidifying the fragile economic recovery and dealing with government debt.

His new chief of staff, who also served as Commerce secretary under President Bill Clinton, boasts a “breadth of experience” that few Americans can match, Obama said at a White House announcement yesterday with Daley at his side.

“He will bring his tremendous experience, his strong values and forward-looking vision to this White House,” Obama said. “I’m convinced that he’ll help us in our mission of growing our economy and moving America forward.”

Later today, administration officials said, Obama will name Sperling to succeed Lawrence Summers as director of the NEC, returning him to a post he held during the Clinton administration. That announcement is scheduled just hours after the Labor Department reports December’s jobs figures. The data is forecast to show a rise in employment for a third month.

New Alignment

Administration officials said the choices reflect the new governing realities, with Republicans controlling the House of Representatives and holding a larger minority in the Senate.

While Obama doesn’t expect Congress to pass legislation on the scale of the health-care law and the financial regulatory overhaul that he won last year, he will need to work with constituencies outside Washington and factions within Congress to move his economic agenda forward. Daley and Sperling have relationships with lawmakers in both parties as well as with business and labor groups, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss internal debates.

Daley drew endorsements yesterday from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Business Roundtable, two Washington-based business organizations that have criticized some of the administration’s policies.

“This is a strong appointment,” Thomas Donohue, the Chamber’s president, said in a statement. “We look forward to working with him to accelerate our recovery, grow the economy, create jobs, and tackle America’s global challenges.”

‘Hopeful Sign’

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky called the selection of Daley “kind of a hopeful sign” and cited his experience in the corporate world.

While Daley has business credentials as head of corporate responsibility and Midwest chairman at JPMorgan since June 2007 and as president of SBC Communications from 2001 to 2004, he may draw controversy for having been a board member of troubled mortgage giant Fannie Mae.

He was appointed to the board by Clinton in 1993 and reappointed in 1995. That service was highlighted yesterday by the Republican National Committee in a news release that said Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac “helped pave the way for the financial crisis.”

In addition to his work at the bank, he serves on several corporate boards, including Boeing Co. and Abbott Laboratories.

“We are anticipating that Mr. Daley will submit an offer to resign from the board,” said Todd Blecher, a Boeing spokesman in Chicago, where the company is based.

Role as Surrogate

The departures of senior adviser David Axelrod and press secretary Robert Gibbs next month leave a void of top Obama representatives who can defend and promote the president’s policies.

Daley likely will take on a prominent role representing the administration on television news programs and other media to discuss economic issues and other parts of Obama’s agenda.

Obama said that Daley “has a smidgen of awareness of how our system of government and politics works. You might say it is a genetic trait.”

Daley, 62, is the youngest son of the late Richard J. Daley, who served more than 21 years as Chicago’s mayor, and the brother of the city’s current mayor, Richard M. Daley. He was also a political mentor to Rahm Emanuel, with whom he worked in the Clinton administration. Emanuel, 51, who served as Obama’s first chief of staff, is now running to succeed Daley’s brother, who chose not to run for a seventh term.

Transition Team Co-Chairman

Daley was Clinton’s Commerce secretary from January 1997 to June 2000 and was chairman of Vice President Al Gore’s unsuccessful 2000 presidential campaign. During the 2008 presidential race, he was an economic adviser to Obama and was a co-chairman of his transition team after the election.

Daley replaces Pete Rouse, whom Obama named on Oct. 1 to fill the role on an interim basis after Emanuel departed. Obama said Rouse was reluctant to remain in that job for the last two years of the current term, though he will stay on as a counselor to the president.

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