Robert Gibbs, the public face of the Obama presidency, said he was stepping down as press secretary amid staff changes meant to carry the White Housethrough the 2012 reelection campaign and parry the Republican takeover of the House.
Gibbs’ announcement Wednesday came as President Obama reconfigures his White House for the second half of the term with a blend of trusted campaign aides and possibly a few fresh faces. Obama will announce his new top economic advisor Friday and he may also anoint a new chief of staff in the coming days.
Though Obama has a strong rapport with his interim chief of staff, Peter Rouse, the president has not yet decided whether to keep him or replace him with William Daley, a former Commerce secretary in the Clinton administration, White House aides said. Daley has been in talks with Obama and the two met privately at the White House on Wednesday.
“It’s accurate to say that Pete has a say in this matter and the president hasn’t made a final decision,” said a senior White House official, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Gibbs’ departure next month is a milestone of sorts. One of the president’s most trusted aides, he signed up for Obama’s 2004 Senate race when the candidate was still an obscure state senator from Illinois. He has been with Obama ever since.
A rarity among White House press secretaries, Gibbs served a dual role as a strategic advisor who sat in on important meetings in the Oval Office. After he leaves he will give speeches and become a paid advisor to Obama’s reelection campaign. Briefing reporters Wednesday, he did not rule out taking on corporate clients.
The father of a 7-year-old boy, Gibbs said he was ready to leave a high-wire existence where even a casual aside uttered at the daily news briefing could potentially result in a stock market crash or an international incident.
Gibbs once infuriated Obama’s political base by complaining about the “professional left.” And he angered former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D- San Francisco) when, months before the midterm election, he stated that Republicans could win control of the House. In that, he was proved right.
“He has said the occasional provocative thing; he’s a feisty guy,” said David Axelrod, a senior White House advisor. “But when it comes to the meat of his work, which is conveying the administration’s viewpoint to you guys in the media, he’s been superb. It’s not an easy job. You sit in a dunk tank for an hour and a half every day.”
White House aides said there was no front-runner for the post. It’s possible that the White House won’t want to name a successor to Gibbs until the new chief of staff, if there is one, has a chance to evaluate the candidates.
For months, the working assumption among reporters was that Gibbs would be replaced by Bill Burton, who often briefs the media in Gibbs’ absence.
But aides confirmed Wednesday that apart from Burton, candidates included vice presidential spokesman Jay Carney; Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest; Deputy Communications Director Jen Psaki; and former ABC News correspondent Linda Douglass, who also served on Obama’s 2008 campaign and later took a job in the administration. Douglass now works for Atlantic Media.
Women’s advocates have urged the White House to appoint more women to high-profile posts. Though women hold senior positions and are deeply involved in the everyday work of the West Wing, with a few exceptions they are not part of Obama’s inner circle.
“His administration is like a boys club,” said Amy Siskind, president and cofounder of the New Agenda, a women’s advocacy group. “You get the sense that the women who are there are outsiders.”