Who's Staffing Obama 2.0: An Update

As many as eight senior staff positions could open up within the next few weeks, as the Washington Post noted today, leaving President Obama with a different -- but strangely familiar -- cast of advisers, some playing new roles.  

And Team Obama generally plays well together, but anticipated friction that could develop between certain personalities is causing several top aides to spill the beans to reporters in an effort to influence the outcome of the president's staff and structure review. 

That's one reason why Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle are now being mentioned alongside former Commerce Secretary William Daley as potential chiefs of staff -- months after their names were first circulated. (Daschle has a ton of former staff members in key White House positions, and Vilsack has won the respect of many for his stewardship of several less-noticed domestic initiatives.) Daley, however, is still the leading candidate if current chief of staff Pete Rouse does not retain the job. 

To briefly sum up the state of play: For chief of staff, Rouse and Daley remain the front-runners; replacing deputy chief of staff Jim Messina (who will manage the reelection campaign), Alyssa Mastromonaco (as we first reported in December) and someone else to handle a newly created policy-politics role; deputy press secretary Bill Burton or vice presidential communications chief Jay Carney replacing Robert Gibbs, who will either (a) take a senior campaign role, (b) become a senior adviser in the White House, or (c) run the left's major independent expenditure effort for 2012. Mona Sutphen, another deputy chief of staff, is departing; her replacement is unclear because the nature of the job might change. 

One strong candidate for a deputy chief of staff job that includes part of Sutphen's old portfolio is Nancy-Ann DeParle, who oversaw health care reform efforts from the West Wing. Less likely to be promoted is Carol Browner, who tends to the energy and environment portfolio. Treasury adviser Gene Sperling, the architect of the payroll tax cut signed into law last month, is expected to become director of the National Economic Council. 

Stephanie Cutter, a special assistant to the president with wide-ranging strategic communications experience, could be promoted; over the past year, the president has become a fan of her work. Cutter would oversee a broader portfolio of activities, reporting to former 2008 campaign manager David Plouffe, who will take over from David Axelrod in several weeks. Another name mentioned favorably: Sean Sweeney, the chief of staff to the chief of staff, who's seen as a jack of all trades.

Leaving soon will be Tina Tchen, Obama's top outreach aide, who reports to Valerie Jarrett. Unclear at this point are the futures of Melody Barnes, the head of the Domestic Policy Council, and her deputy, Heather Higginbottom.

And then there's Lisa Brown, virtually unknown as a member of the senior staff to the outside, who, as staff secretary, sees the president as often as anyone else. But this position, necessary in an age of paper documents, is less important in an era of secure e-mail. A White House reorganization might move that position down the food chain. 

The new lineup might be fielded sooner -- as in days from now -- rather than later because Obama wants his new team working well together by the time he gives the State of the Union address.

Presented by

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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