White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs confirmed speculation that he will be leaving the White House to work as an outside adviser President Obama and his reelection campaign.
Gibbs will depart early next month. There is no replacement yet, though the betting is on either Deputy Press Secretary Bill Burton or Jay Carney, a former reporter for Time magazine who heads up Vice President Biden’s communications shop
The New York Times was given a brief, exclusive interview with President Obama.
“We’ve been on this ride together since I won my Senate primary in 2004,” Mr. Obama said. “He’s had a six-year stretch now where basically he’s been going 24/7 with relatively modest pay. I think it’s natural for someone like Robert to want to step back for a second to reflect, retool and that, as a consequence, brings about both challenges and opportunities for the White House.”
Burton has substituted for Gibbs on the podium and generally handled the briefings well. But some in the White House feel he is too young to be the public face of the administration.
Carney is an unknown on the podium, but he’s smart and well versed in the ways of Washington.
The White House is still apparently considering other choices for the post.
Gibbs is much more than a press secretary. He is one of the three or four people closest to Obama and advising him on a wide range of issues.
Gibbs is also far savvier and smarter than he sometimes appears on TV, where he speaks slowly and sometimes seems to make mistakes. But certain “misstatements,” including criticisms he has made of liberal Democrats, are more likely carefully crafted efforts to distinguish Obama from the Democratic base – without the president himself having to do it.
With Obama’s reelection in doubt, the White House will need for the campaign Gibbs’ strategic sense and ability to go on TV and immediately respond to attacks.
Gibbs has not only served as a Washington spokesman but has worked on several campaigns. By disentangling him from White House policy deliberations, he is now free to spend all his time promoting Obama.
Within the White House, 2008 Obama campaign chief David Plouffe will take up many of Gibbs’ in-the-background duties, as well as those of departing senior adviser and message guru David Axelrod.
But with both Axelrod and Gibbs leaving, I wouldn’t be surprised if Obama brings into the White House another sturdy hand to steer the message – perhaps even someone like veteran presidential adviser David Gergen, who was in to see the president recently.