Minor Reshuffling of Obama’s Staff is Major News?

Why is the press gushing over routine movement in White House team?

In “White House shakeup could mean Robert Gibbs exitPolitico‘s Glenn Thrush and Amie Parnes gush, “Administration officials — who long denied that President Barack Obama was planning a major housecleaning in the wake of the disastrous 2010 midterms — aren’t pushing back anymore.”

But Gibbs is the only big fish and he’s not really going anywhere.

Senior adviser David Axelrod has already announced his departure, and press secretary Robert Gibbs has also joined the roster of administration officials likely to leave in the coming weeks. Add the possibility of new permanent chief of staff to replace interim appointee Pete Rouse — perhaps Clinton Commerce Secretary William Daley or even former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle — and you have the makings of what many Democrats had suggested — a major overhaul, albeit one on Obama’s terms and on his timetable.

Until recently, many in the building had expected Gibbs to stay. But according to sources, he is now seriously considering an exit from the West Wing — a move that would allow him to work on Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign and act as a media surrogate for the president, the sources say.


Rouse’s future remains in his own hands, several administration officials said, on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the discussions. Obama is seriously considering Daley as a permanent successor — but he hasn’t ruled out other candidates, including Daschle. Sources said the president will likely stick with Rouse if the laconic, reclusive and hyperorganized aide decides he truly doesn’t want the job on a permanent basis.

White House officials also said it’s increasingly likely that Obama — who returned to the White House on Tuesday after an extended holiday break in Hawaii — will elevate economic adviser Gene Sperling to chair the National Economic Council, a job vacated by Larry Summers at the end of 2010 and a post Sperling held during Bill Clinton’s last term.

Not to be outdone, WaPo‘s Anne Kornblut and Scott Wilson (“Obama weighs major reshuffling of staff“) report, “As President Obama returns from Hawaii, he is weighing a major reshuffling of his staff that could see as many as eight people playing new key roles in the weeks ahead, Democrats familiar with the process said. ”

Again, aside from possibly bringing in a permanent chief of staff to replace the interim guy and a having his current communications guy communicate from behind a different podium, nothing exciting.   Oh, there are vague rumblings of  “a potentially much larger reorganization that encompasses almost the entire West Wing hierarchy, including those who have had the most influence over the administration’s direction in its first two years.”  But there’s no meat to that.

Rahm Emanuel has already left, of course.  But he wasn’t pushed out to give the administration a fresh start or to send some sort of signal that Obama learned from the midterm “shellacking.”  Rather, he’s running for mayor of Chicago.

This is pretty standard stuff, not “a major housecleaning.”  A handful of top people from the 2008 campaign are heading off to focus on the 2012 campaign and a couple other people are leaving the grueling, low paying life of a White House staffer for more lucrative opportunities.    Oh, and some people are moving on from the staffs of Joe Biden and Michelle Obama. Not exactly a big F-ing deal.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Mike Drew says:

    Good reality check, Dr. Thx.

  2. This seems to happen every time a President mulls a staff change..

    After the Iran/Contra scandal had started to take its toll on the Reagan Administration, and Reagan brought in Howard Baker to replace Donald Regan, the Washington press corps was acting as if it was a new era in Washington.

    Mostly I think its just the press corps looking for something to write about

  3. Dave Schuler says:


  4. Look! There’s Elvis!

    But seriously, how else can they justify their jobs and salaries unless the events they are covering are earth shattering? Every. Single. Day.

  5. tom p says:

    >>Look! There’s Elvis!>>

    He’s with Michael Jackson!

  6. floyd says:

    Does anybody here think Axelrod is actually “leaving”?{lol}

  7. Karbunckle says:

    Probably for the same reason they covering the republicans reneging on cutting $100b in spending. That’s not news either, after all.

  8. HelloWorld says:

    Lets face it Robert Gibbs is awful at delivering the message, and pulling in Daley may be the prez is finally ready to start standing for something.

  9. ponce says:

    Here we have yet another example of the so-called “liberal press” trying to undermine a Democratic president.

  10. just me says:

    Gibbs i think is probably one of the worst press secretaries in the modern era. I only thought McClellan was awful but I think Gibbs is worse.

    As for this being news-I think the press always makes a big deal out of staff changes-especially if there isn’t a lot of other hard news to cover.

  11. Eric Florack says:

    While I tend to agree with ames that such shuffling is no major deal, I suppose that there is both some tea-leaf reading going on here, as well as some spin. The former is obvious. As to the latter, consider the press and their reax to the Gibbs departure. .

    THe speculation for some time has been that the problem with the Obama WH vs the voters, vis a vie the (I think) understated unpopularity of the man and his policies, has always been one of communication… that Obama’s brilliant idealoggy wasn’t being communicated well enough.With his departure, suddenly the tune changes to what a brilliant communications director Gibbs has been and what a good job he’s done.

    Well, which is it? (Chuckle)