There are reports of a significant re-shuffle of White House staff in the first months of 2011, partly expected due to the new rigors of a divided government environment and somewhat predicted as a way to re-organize energies heading into the 2012 Presidential campaign. Already, White House senior political adviser David Axelrod moves out to make space for David Plouffe, a mere switching of roles for the two brain trusts of the 2008 Obama campaign. But, more is expected as an ambitious restructuring is underway in which President Barack Obama must find a way to leverage executive branch power amid the challenge of a Republican majority in the House amid still tough economic times ahead in 2011.
While the President’s Hawaii vacation offers some time for a fresh recharge following a bruising political year and active lame duck Congressional period, it also provides an opportunity for the White House senior staff to carefully look at how it will enter the last year before jumping into the Presidential race fray.
The president is studying how to maximize the power of the executive branch, advisers said, seeking insight from veterans of previous administrations and fresh advice from business leaders to guide the second half of his term.
A reshaping of the economic team, beginning by naming a new director of the National Economic Council, is among the most urgent priorities of the new year. Gene Sperling, a counselor to the Treasury secretary who held the position in the Clinton administration, is among the final contenders to succeed Lawrence H. Summers in the job, along with Roger C. Altman, a Wall Street investment banker who also served in the Clinton administration.
That staffing reconfiguration may be noticeable in the White House, but the President will change little as far as his Cabinet is concerned. It’s an interesting development considering many critics of the Administration feel that certain Obama Administration secretaries are too quiet and unable to serve as spokespersons for policy. Observers point to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius as an ineffective advocate for health care reform and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar as lackluster in his response to the BP Gulf of Mexico oil spill. But, lack of dramatic shifting or shuffling actually reflects the Obama way of executive management. Keeping it quiet, low key and drama-less.
“I don’t expect, quite honestly, big changes,” said Press Secretary Robert Gibbs in a recent CNN interview, who is also expected to transition out of his role sometime in the new year into either a senior White House adviser or back to campaign duty. “I think we’ve had a — a very capable and — and good cabinet that has helped move the president’s agenda forward. I think there’s obviously a lot that has to be done at Treasury to implement financial reform, at HHS to implement health care reform. And I think we have a very talented team.”
While changes on Pennsylvania Avenue take place, the Obama 2012 campaign headquarters will re-emerge with its base in Chicago. The move rejects the conventional wisdom of a second-term seeking President basing re-election operations out of Washington – similar to presidents of the past 30 years – and fits with the sense that the mood is so anti-Washington at the moment that national campaigns would be wise to find strength in unorthodox locations. Basing the re-election bid out of Chicago also helps revive Democratic strengths in the economically struggling Midwest.
Katherine Skiba in The Chicago Tribune reports:
A key factor favoring Chicago’s selection is the anti-Washington climate that has swept the country. Another is the insurgency candidacy anticipated from Obama’s rivals, who are expected to make the case that the times are bad, the nation’s capital is broken, Obama has been captured by Washington — and they offer voters an alternative. With a large crop of Republican hopefuls and support yet to coalesce around one, Obama is expected to adopt a short-term strategy of looking, acting and sounding presidential — not like a candidate.