Some major changes are in store for the White House Briefing Room and President Obama’s innermost team.
White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs announced his departure to staffers on Wednesday morning. The move comes on the president’s first full day in back in the office from his Hawaii holiday vacation.
Rumors brewed for months about an impending Gibbs departure from the White House. Observers noted the sometimes testy relationship between the press secretary and the media over policy issues, administration shortcomings, and the political news of the day.
The White House press operation had also been a subject of media and constituent complaints from the beginning of the president’s term in office. Gibbs was not readily accessible on the phone, according to some reporters. It became clear as time went on that the White House far too reactive, instead of proactive, in their messaging. The major legislative setbacks during last year’s election further underscored the communications gap on Pennsylvania Avenue.
In spite of his successes and challenges, the 39-year-old Gibbs has a bright future ahead of him in politics and the larger Obama team. He will likely join the 2012 re-election campaign for President Obama and possibly open his own communications firm.
In a written statement, the president acknowledged Gibbs’s tough decision. At the same time, he offered support for the next position Gibbs will play on his larger team.
“For the last six years, Robert has been a close friend, one of my closest advisers and an effective advocate from the podium for what this administration has been doing to move America forward,” said President Obama.
“I think it’s natural for him to want to step back, reflect and retool. That brings up some challenges and opportunities for the White House – but it doesn’t change the important role that Robert will continue to play on our team,” he added.
A few White House insiders have been floated as possible replacements for Gibbs once he officially departs in February. Deputy Press Secretary, Bill Burton, is a logical contender. There is also talk of Jay Carney assuming the role, since he now serves as Vice President Joe Biden’s press secretary.
The press secretary vacancy isn’t the only high-level opening at the White House. The president’s chief-of-staff, deputy chief-of-staff, and adviser roles are also considering new candidates. The director of the Office of Public Engagement and the White House political director both have either departed or been shuffled to greater roles in the Administration. Even the vice president’s chief-of-staff will soon change.
The new year has brought a host of new staffing opportunities and challenges to President Obama. However, staff shakeups are common throughout the course of presidential terms, especially at the halfway point and the end of the term. These changes give the president a renewed chance and fresher faces to accomplish his agenda for the American people.