President Obama this afternoon announced that White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley has resigned and is being replaced by OMB Director Jack Lew.
Daley, a veteran Washington insider who served as Commerce Secretary under Bill Clinton, is known not to have bonded well with the younger, more politically minded White House staff.
The Chicago Tribune is reporting that it was Daley’s decision to step down and that he did so in a letter to the president last week. Daley’s decision, the Tribune reports, came immediately after Daley had finished his Christmas vacation and just weeks after Obama had stripped him of some of his duties.
In November, Obama directed a change in the flow chart at the White House, keeping Daley in charge but shifting many of the day-to-day operational duties to Pete Rouse, a trusted aide who had served as interim chief of staff. Friends said Daley would focus on high-level managerial duties and be advisor and surrogate for the president.
After winning an end-of-year victory in the extension of the payroll tax cut, Daley went to Mexico and to Chicago to celebrate Christmas and spend time with his wife and grandchildren. When he came back, he told Obama right away that he had decided to leave.
Obama, who spoke at the White House with Daley on one side and Lew on the other, also said the move had been Daley’s idea and praised him as “an outstanding chief of staff” and that he would miss him and call him often and blah blah blah.
Obama said Daley wanted to spend more time with his family. The White House could have at least been more original.
Daley certainly wouldn’t have left the job if he was happy, and the difference between resigning and getting out of Dodge just before your arrest is often small.
The confrontational posture the White House has adopted toward the House Republicans as the campaign season heats up is generally at odds with Daley’s temperament. Daley is a moderate used to working with Republicans and the business community, and the White House has in recent months tacked decidedly left.
There has also been some reporting on the failure of Obama and Daley to establish much of a personal bond. Staffers also complained that Daley’s style was too top-down for their tastes, pointing to annoyances like Daley’s tendency to close the door to his office and work alone.
And given reports from a new book that will be out tomorrow – “The Obamas” – about the first lady’s involvement in West Wing matters and her unhappiness with the Rahm Emanuel, it’s worth wondering whether Michelle played any role in ousting Daley or in his unhappiness with his job.
Lew, while politically liberal, is not exactly a confrontational firebrand either. But he would seem to me to be more willing to accomodate political strategists like senior White House adviser David Plouffe and take a subordinate role on some issues to Pete Rouse. By contrast, Daley is older, wealthier, commands more respect in Washington, and has his own way of doing things.
Lew was OMB Director during the Clinton administration and was brought on to perform the same role by Obama following the departure in 2010 of Peter Orszag.
It is highly unusual for a senior aide to depart during the election year, and the transition could cause trouble for the White House. Usually, senior advisers are told to make a decision the summer of the year before Election Day about whether they are in for the remainder of the ride .