Obama Considers Staff Changes, Ever So Carefully


Despite urgent pleas from Democrats that he shake up his White House staff, President Obama will proceed with a plan he put in place before the election, one that calls for a careful review the structure of his office before making changes. 

Chief of Staff Peter Rouse is leading the review, and Obama has asked him to finish it before the new year begins. 

Already, the contours of the White House 2.0 are known: at some point, senior adviser David Axelrod will return to Chicago to help run Obama's 2012 campaign, and David Plouffe will take his place. There is a new national security adviser, Tom Donilon, and there will be a new Secretary of Defense before too long. There has been significant turnover already in senior economic policy positions.  

One idea under consideration is to divide up the functions of Jim Messina's job. Messina is the deputy chief of staff with oversight over White House operations, which includes the management of the staff and continuity of government functions of the Oval Office, as well as the integration of policy and politics. Under President Bush, Karl Rove performed the latter job, and a deputy chief of staff, Joe Hagin, was responsible for the former.  

Some administration officials and advisers agreed to discuss this subject on the condition of anonymity because they wanted to temper news reports that Obama was being pressured by Democrats, many of them affiliated with the Clinton administration, to recklessly clear the deck. 

These officials and advisers are chagrined at what they see as an attempt to force out staffers by dropping rumors that they are about to leave. This morning, several Democratic strategists said they had heard that White House political director Patrick Gaspard had submitted his resignation. Gaspard said he did not, and two other senior officials verified that Obama did not expect him to. 

Obama is expected to ask Messina to run his re-election campaign. Potential candidates for the operations side of Messina's job include Alyssa Mastromonaco, the president's scheduler and a trusted aide from his days in the Senate. 

Mona Sutphen, the deputy chief of staff for policy, has told friends that she may scale back her commitment to the White House in order to spend more time with her young children. Carol Browner, the former Clinton EPA chief who coordinates energy policy, might be in line for the policy role, aides said.  As the Atlantic reported last month, the president has come to value her counsel on matters beyond her portfolio. But Browner has not yet indicated whether she wants to stay. 

Legislative relations chief Phil Schiliro has a strained relationship with Sen. Harry Reid, and that might make a direct promotion more difficult. (Obama is said to be very happy with Schiliro's performance in general.) 

No large changes are expected in the White House media operation; some staff members might leave and others might be added. Though Press Secretary Robert Gibbs has been floated as a possible chairman of the DNC, and other aides have suggested he might be promoted to senior adviser, he has not decided to leave the podium yet, the officials said. 
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Marc Ambinder is an Atlantic contributing editor. He is also a senior contributor at Defense One, a contributing editor at GQ, and a regular contributor at The Week.

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