Washington Robert Gibbs, the feisty press secretary whose job as President Barack Obama’s chief spokesman and confidant has given him an outsized presence at the White House, announced Wednesday he was quitting for the less demanding, more lucrative role of giving paid speeches and advising the president from the outside world.
In a rapidly unfolding makeover, Obama was also closing in on a decision whether to tap William Daley, a former commerce secretary, for the vital gatekeeping job of White House chief of staff. Obama and Daley met at the White House on Wednesday, and a presidential decision on that position was expected within days.
The changes means Obama is resetting his presidency as core members of his team head for the door, with senior adviser David Axelrod soon to follow and uncertainty looming over who will permanently replace Rahm Emanuel, another defining figure who quit as the top White House manager three months ago to run for Chicago mayor.
Obama aides are promising stability, particularly as former campaign manager David Plouffe joins the senior staff on Monday, but even Gibbs acknowledged what’s happening is a “pretty major retooling.”
“It’s a good time to get some fresh voices, including somebody up here,” Gibbs, 39, said from his familiar perch behind the White House briefing room lectern.
The crowd for his question and answer session with reporters was bigger than normal — the news media and Gibbs’ staff members packed the room after word had gotten out about his decision. But otherwise, it was a classic Gibbs briefing: a bit late in starting and then filled with winding answers, stern defenses of the president’s policies and wisecracks with his questioners.
As attention centers on the new Congress, Obama is installing the leadership that will help define his agenda, the way he cooperates with or combats Republicans and his re-election style. Of all the faces coming and going, Gibbs is perhaps the one best known to America through his nonstop appearances on television and his forays into social media like Twitter.
Obama is now deciding whether to stick with his respected, below-the-radar Pete Rouse as chief of staff, or bring in Daley, a banking executive who’s more comfortable in front of the cameras. That decision appears largely to be a matter of whether Rouse, the interim chief, wants to stay on for another two years.
A combination of internal fatigue and a demand to shift people to the 2012 re-election campaign effort is fueling all the personnel changes. The president is expected on Friday to name a new top economic adviser, likely Treasury official Gene Sperling. And no matter who serves as chief of staff, both deputy chiefs of staff, Jim Messina and Mona Sutphen, are leaving soon.