Obama Chooses Daley as Chief of Staff
President Barack Obama named veteran political manager William Daley to be his new chief of staff Thursday, selecting a centrist with Wall Street ties to help navigate a newly divided Congress and a looming re-election.
"Few Americans can boast the breadth of experience that Bill brings to this job," Obama told reporters in the East Room as Daley, 62, stood at his side.
"But most of all, I know Bill to be somebody who cares deeply about this country, believes in its promise, and considers no calling higher and more important than serving the American people," the president said.
The appointment represented the most significant move in a far-reaching and ongoing staff shakeup that included the departure of Obama's press secretary and several key deputies and economic advisers. It came the day after Republicans officially assumed control of the House and increased their numbers in the Senate.
Daley, who served as commerce secretary for President Bill Clinton, offers criteria Obama wants for the new environment in Washington: an outsider's perspective, credibility with the business community, familiarity with the ways of the Cabinet and experience in navigating divided government.
"I'm convinced that he'll help us in our mission of growing our economy and moving America forward," Obama said.
Daley made a pledge to the president: "This team will not let you down - nor the nation."
Daley replaces Pete Rouse, the interim chief of the last three months and a behind-the-scenes Obama adviser who did not want the position permanently and recommended Daley for it. Rouse, who received warm praise from Obama and sustained applause from staffers watching in the East Room, will remain as a counselor to the president, an elevated position from his former job as senior adviser.
Daley was expected to start as chief of staff within the next couple of weeks. His brother, Richard Daley, is the mayor of Chicago, the post that Obama's first chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, left his job in October to seek. The Daley brothers are sons of Richard J. Daley, who was Chicago's mayor from 1955 to his death in 1976.
Although Chicago is also Obama's hometown, the president has not had a close relationship with his new chief of staff. But Obama alluded to the Daley political legacy, joking that he "has a smidgen of awareness of how our system of government and politics works. You might say it is a genetic trait."
Daley will assume one of the most important and influential jobs in American government as an adviser and gatekeeper to Obama. He will be thrust into the heart of national politics just as Obama adapts to a new reality in Washington, with Republicans working to gut his signature health care law and pushing for major cuts in spending.
Although Daley has not sought elective office himself, he has long been immersed in politics.
He helped Clinton pass the North American Free Trade Agreement before joining his Cabinet. Later, he ran Al Gore's 2000 presidential campaign and the historic recount effort that ended with Gore conceding the race to George W. Bush.
When Obama launched his presidential campaign, the Daley family put aside its deep connections to Bill and Hillary Rodham Clinton and endorsed the young Illinois senator. Until then, Obama and the Daleys had largely operated separately in Illinois politics - not helping each other much but not attacking each other, either. After Obama's victory, Daley helped oversee the presidential transition.
Daley, a lawyer and banker, now serves as Midwest chairman of JPMorgan Chase. His appointment could raise questions about the White House's closeness with Wall Street just as Obama is eager to enforce reforms that benefit the little guy.
Liberal groups reacted negatively to the announcement, with MoveOn.org calling it "troubling" because of Daley's "close ties to the big banks and big business." By contrast, the choice won praise from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which Obama has recently begun to woo after clashes with business groups. The chamber called Daley "a man of stature and extraordinary experience in government, business, trade negotiations and global affairs."
The reactions underscored Obama's determination to play to the middle as he ramps up for his re-election fight in 2012, even if it means alienating allies on the left.
Daley laid out his political ideology last year upon joining the board of Third Way, a moderate Democratic think tank.
"We must acknowledge that the left's agenda has not won the support of a majority of Americans - and, based on that recognition, we must steer a more moderate course," he said at the time.
Obama is ushering in changes across his senior leadership - the result of internal staff fatigue, a need to shift energy and people to Obama's re-election campaign, and an adaptation to the fresh limits on Obama's power. Although many of the names of the players may not be familiar to the electorate, the collective personnel changes will influence not just Obama but the national agenda.
White House press secretary Robert Gibbs announced Wednesday he was resigning by early February, senior adviser David Axelrod will be leaving soon, and both of Obama's deputy chiefs of staff, Jim Messina and Mona Sutphen, are exiting soon, too. David Plouffe, a key member of Obama's inner circle as his former presidential campaign manager, will be joining the senior staff of the White House on Monday.
Daley emerged as a natural candidate for the chief of staff post, particularly after other internal candidates ended up in other positions. He is close to some of those in Obama's orbit, including Axelrod, Emanuel and senior presidential adviser Valerie Jarrett.