Obama names new chief of staff, drawing outcries from the left

William Daley is a banker and seasoned political fighter who worked in the Clinton administration. William Daley is a banker and seasoned political fighter who worked in the Clinton administration. (Win Mcnamee/Getty Images)
By Ben Feller
Associated Press / January 7, 2011

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WASHINGTON — Overhauling his team at the top, President Obama named banker and seasoned political fighter William Daley as his new chief of staff yesterday, hoping to rejuvenate both a White House storming into reelection mode and an economy trying to maintain growth.

The choice of Daley immediately brought protest from the left flank of the Democratic Party, where advocates questioned his insider ties to Wall Street. Centrists and business leaders rallied around the move, one that underscored just how much and how fast the face of the White House is changing.

Obama, whose hopes for a second term will be shaped largely by how the economy does, immediately linked Daley’s appointment to that task. For the most influential staff job in American politics, Obama chose a fellow Chicagoan and former Cabinet secretary who has run both companies and campaigns.

“I’m convinced that he’ll help us in our mission of growing our economy,’’ an upbeat Obama said in a White House ceremony as Daley stood to one side. On the other side of the president was Pete Rouse, the interim chief of staff who oversaw a busy three months but did not want to stay in the job.

Said Daley to his new boss: “This team will not let you down, nor the nation.’’

Rouse, who disdains the spotlight but is considered one of Obama’s most essential advisers, choked back some rare public emotion as his colleagues gave him a rousing ovation and the president praised him. He will remain on board for the rest of Obama’s current term as counselor to the president, the only one in the building to hold that elevated title.

As the new Republican majority in the House exerts its power, Obama has been resetting his team briskly, with one eye on governing and the other on getting reelected. After two long years on the job, on top of two nonstop years of campaigning, some of Obama’s most senior advisers are heading out.

The president is losing his press secretary, Robert Gibbs, and his trusted strategist, David Axelrod; he is bringing in former campaign chief David Plouffe as a top staff adviser starting Monday. Yet change only goes so far, as all three of them will end up playing vital roles in Obama’s 2012 election campaign, just as they did last time.

Today, Obama is expected to name Gene Sperling as his chief economic adviser. Sperling once served for President Clinton, just as Daley did.

The chief of staff is charged with shaping Obama’s time while managing a wide range of issues, crises, opinions, and egos. Few jobs are as consuming.

Daley is known to be deft at deal making and organizing. He offers Obama credibility with the business community, familiarity with the ways of the Cabinet, and experience in navigating divided government.

He has never run for office but is the son of a legendary Chicago mayor and the brother of the current one, and he managed Al Gore’s campaign for the presidency, right through the historic recount vote of 2000.

He helped Clinton seal the North American Free Trade Agreement and later served as his commerce secretary.

Among his challenges: He has supported Obama but not been personally close to him, and now he must run an operation of the president’s loyal staff members.

Ron Klain, who has known and worked with Daley over the last two decades, said Daley has the temperament and finesse to deliver on the challenge.

“This is a guy who does not tolerate bickering,’’ said Klain, who is leaving the administration after serving as Vice President Joe Biden’s chief of staff.

Liberal groups denounced the pick, fearing White House accommodation to ascendant Republicans and a softening toward Wall Street regulation.

“Why in the world is President Barack Obama selecting as his chief of staff a person who comes from the very Wall Street that wrecked the economy?’’ said Robert Weissmann, president of Public Citizen, a liberal advocacy group. Said Roger Hickey, co-director of the liberal Campaign for America’s Future: “I’d be happier if one of these major appointments was closer to Main Street than to Wall Street.’’

William Daley

Family: Born in Chicago, the seventh and youngest child of Chicago’s famed mayor, Richard J Daley. William Daley’s brother, Richard M. Daley, is the current mayor of the city. He is 62 and married.

Education: Loyola University in Chicago, B.A.; John Marshall Law School.

Political career: Key aide for presidential candidate Bill Clinton in Illinois in 1992; shepherded the North American Free Trade Agreement through Congress for the Clinton White House; US secretary of commerce, January 1997 to June 2000; chairman of Al Gore’s presidential campaign, June 2000-December 2000; early informal adviser to Barack Obama when he was a candidate for president.

Business career: President of Amalgamated Bank of Chicago, 1990-1993; partner in one of Chicago’s biggest law firms, Mayer, Brown and Platt; vice chairman, Evercore Capital Partners LP, 2001; president, SBC Communications Inc., 2001-2004; senior executive, JPMorgan Chase & Co., 2004-2011.

Quote: “The Democratic Party — my lifelong political home — has a critical decision to make. Either we plot a more moderate, centrist course or risk electoral disaster not just in the upcoming midterms but in many elections to come.’’ (December 2009)