Obama Set to Retool White House Team for Second Half of Presidential Term
President Barack Obama is undertaking a “major retooling” of his administration that will include an announcement tomorrow of several new top officials for his economic team.
Obama will name his choice to succeed Larry Summers, who returned to Harvard University last month, as director of the National Economic Council, according to an administration official. He also will appoint a deputy NEC director and fill the deputy position on the Council of Economic Advisers vacated by Austan Goolsbee when he was elevated to chairman, the official said on condition of anonymity because the decisions haven’t been formally announced.
Gene Sperling, a counselor to Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, has emerged as the leading candidate to succeed Summers at the NEC.
Obama also is considering naming William Daley, a JPMorgan Chase & Co. executive and former Commerce secretary, to a top administration position, possibly White House chief of staff. Daley met with Obama and administration officials yesterday at the White House, the administration official said.
The moves come as Obama is about to enter the second half of his term faced with the challenge of getting his agenda through a House of Representatives now controlled by the Republican Party and a Senate where his Democratic Party has a narrower majority. He also is looking ahead to his 2012 re- election campaign.
As part of the shift toward the next presidential race, press secretary Robert Gibbs announced yesterday that he will leave the administration early next month. He said he will serve as an outside adviser to Obama and work on the 2012 campaign.
The Obama administration is about to undergo a “major retooling,” Gibbs said at a briefing yesterday. “There’s going to be a lot of new faces.”
The staff shakeup comes at a “natural” break for any administration, said James Carville, a Democratic campaign consultant who was a senior political adviser to Bill Clinton’s first presidential campaign in 1992.
“Two years is a standard tour of duty,” Carville said in an interview.
Among the candidates Obama is considering to succeed Gibbs is Jay Carney, a spokesman for Vice President Joe Biden, as well as Bill Burton and Josh Earnest, who have served as deputies to Gibbs since the campaign, according to an administration official.
Senior adviser David Axelrod, the architect of Obama’s 2008 election, previously has said that he plans to leave the White House in the coming weeks and return to Chicago before rejoining Obama’s re-election effort.
Deputy chief of staff Jim Messina also is likely to leave the administration to begin setting up the re-election bid out of Chicago. Obama’s 2008 campaign manager, David Plouffe, will join the White House staff Jan. 10 as an adviser to the president.
Obama isn’t losing trusted advisers like Gibbs and Axelrod as much as he’s “repurposing” them into new roles, said Alan Schroeder, a journalism professor at Northeastern University in Boston. “The presidential campaign is on.”
The economy likely will remain a top issue in the 2012 presidential race, and Obama’s announcement of his new economic advisers will follow a Labor Department report that is forecast to show a rise in employment for a third month in December.
A projected 140,000 gain in December payrolls is the median forecast of 61 economists surveyed by Bloomberg News before tomorrow’s report. The unemployment rate may have eased to 9.7 percent from 9.8 percent.
While Sperling has emerged as the leading candidate to replace Summers, Obama is also considering Yale University President Richard Levin and Roger Altman, the founder of Evercore Partners Inc.
Levin also is a potential candidate to lead the President’s Economic Recovery Advisory Board, whose current chairman is former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker. Levin and Obama met at the White House in December to discuss the position, according to three people familiar with the matter.
The panel was established by executive order at the start of Obama’s administration, and its authorization is set to expire in February. Volcker, 83, plans to leave the panel when the two-year term in up, Reuters reported yesterday, citing people familiar with the decision.
Obama has also been seeking advice from a range of economic experts as he puts together an agenda for the next two years. The president and his advisers have said that as the economy reaches firmer footing, Obama will focus on deficit reduction and ensuring U.S. competitiveness in the global marketplace.
The president met last month at the White House with leading outside economists, including Douglas Holtz-Eakin, who advised Republican John McCain in the 2008 presidential election; Gregory Mankiw, an economic adviser to President George W. Bush; and Harvard University professor Ken Rogoff.
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