WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama on Monday named his budget director, Jack Lew, to be his next chief of staff to replace William Daley, who’s leaving after a year in the job just as the White House begins to gear up for a bruising re-election campaign.
Standing with Lew and Daley in the White House State Dining Room, Obama said he had “every confidence that Jack will make sure that we don’t miss a beat,” noting that Lew as director of the White House Office of Management and Budget already has “one of the other most difficult jobs in Washington.”
Daley, who had signaled last fall in an interview with a hometown Chicago TV station that he’d stay only through the presidential campaign, last week told Obama he wanted to leave sooner.
Obama said he’d asked Daley to reconsider, “but in the end, the pull of the hometown we both love — a city that’s been synonymous with the Daley family for generations — was too great.”
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In January 2010, Daley, a former commerce secretary under President Bill Clinton, replaced Rahm Emanuel, who won election as Chicago’s mayor. Daley was brought in to help the White House reach out to business leaders, but he failed to broker a deal with congressional Republicans to cut the country’s debt.
In November, some of Daley’s management duties were given to senior adviser Pete Rouse to "help streamline and make more effective" internal White House communications.
Obama praised Daley as an “outstanding chief of staff, during one of the busiest and most consequential years of my administration.”
Daley will stay on the job until the end of the month, overseeing preparation for the annual State of the Union address. Likewise, Lew will stay at the budget office until the close of the month, overseeing development of the president’s 2013 budget.
Chief of staff is one of the most critical posts in every White House. It serves as gatekeeper to the president and steers his priorities toward enactment. Obama credited Daley with helping to develop the $447 billion jobs package the president has been pushing for since Labor Day, and with passing trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama.
“No one in my administration has had to make more important decisions more quickly than Bill,” Obama said.
Lew’s selection is not without precedent, said Martha Joynt Kumar, a Towson University political science professor who studies the presidency. Two successful chiefs of staff — Leon Panetta under Clinton and Josh Bolten under President George W. Bush — were former OMB directors, Kumar noted.
“The OMB directors are seasoned, in management, in programs and in politics,” Kumar said. “So much of what happens in a White House involves coordination with agencies and departments, and the OMB director has all that knowledge. He’s in a position to know the weak points.” She noted that budget directors often have experience working with Capitol Hill as well, and Lew does.
The switch comes as Obama has shown that he’s all but given up on congressional Republicans, whom he’s said oppose his initiatives simply because he’s proposed them.
Kumar noted that Panetta and Bolten were Clinton's and Bush’s second chiefs of staff — each named when the administrations chose to shift course.
“There comes a point, and (Obama) has certainly reached that point, where the president is increasingly using executive orders to achieve his goals,” Kumar said.
Though the administration has embarked on a campaign it calls “We Can’t Wait,” to showcase its moves without waiting for Congress to help, Lew has Capitol Hill experience. Obama noted that he had worked for former House Speaker Thomas P. "Tip" O’Neill, D-Mass. He also was a point person for the administration on Capitol Hill during the protracted debt-ceiling showdown last summer.
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said in a statement that Daley had been hired to “bridge the divide between President Obama” and the business community, but he had “found himself trying to defend the indefensible in Obama’s failed economic policies.”
He called the “shakeup” evidence that “every decision is being made through the lens of Obama’s re-election.”
From the other side of the political divide, liberals cheered Daley’s departure.
"Today, Wall Street bankers lost one of their best friends in Washington, D.C.,” said a statement issued by Adam Green, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee. a grassroots organization.
The announcement came just minutes after White House Press Secretary Jay Carney held a daily press briefing without mentioning Daley’s departure. The Tribune Co. broke the story.
Obama said he would continue to seek Daley’s counsel, and Obama’s re-election campaign said Daley would serve as a campaign co-chair.
“Chicago is only a phone call away, and I’m going to be using that phone number quite a bit,” Obama said.
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