The expected departure of White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel in the next few months, possibly to run for mayor of Chicago, could open the way to a larger reshuffle of personnel in the West Wing.
Nearly two years into the Obama presidency – marked by a stubbornly slow economic recovery, two wars, and a big policy agenda – exhaustion levels are running high. And some top staff have made no secret of the fact they view themselves as short-timers. Mr. Emanuel has made clear in the past that the Chicago mayorship interested him, though there is still no word yet on whether he will resign soon and throw his hat in the ring before the Nov. 22 filing deadline.
Senior adviser David Axelrod, never a fan of life inside the Beltway, reportedly wants to rejoin his family in Chicago. Spokesman Robert Gibbs has long been rumored to be heading for an off-screen role as a presidential counselor, away from the nattering nabobs in the press room.
Speaking to reporters Wednesday on Air Force One, Mr. Gibbs didn’t speak to his own future, but suggested that a personnel shakeup was inevitable when asked about possible staff turnover.
For Some Obama Staffers, This is Year 4
“I don’t doubt that that will happen in – it will happen in this administration like it has in many of the previous,” Gibbs said.
“I will say, too, for those that were on the campaign, this is sort of the end of Year 4, not necessarily the end of Year 2,” he continued. “So I think there’s no doubt that there will be people that return to their lives and their families and – but we’ve got a while before that. We’ve got at least two months before this election – or about two months before this election before we get to a lot of those decisions.”
President Obama himself addressed the timing of a possible Emanuel departure in an interview that aired Thursday on ABC News, strongly hinting that he had better stick around for the midterms on Nov. 2.
“You know, the one thing I’ve always been impressed with about Rahm is that when he has a job to do, he focuses on the job in front of him,” Mr. Obama said. “And so my expectation is, he’d make a decision after these midterm elections. He knows that we’ve got a lot of work to do.”
Then Obama offered his blessing: “But I think he’d be a terrific mayor.”
Emanuel’s Invaluable Expertise
In fact, if the Democrats lose control of the House, which the latest polls indicate is possible, Emanuel might be just the person Obama needs at his side as he transitions into divided government. Emanuel was a top adviser in the Clinton White House the last time the Democrats lost their majority; Emanuel has always been a believer in working toward what’s doable, not holding to a strict ideology. To liberal activists, seeing Emanuel leave will be a happy day.
They may get their wish, but chances are Obama will not put a flaming liberal in the chief of staff’s chair.
Some names being mentioned are deputy national security adviser Tom Donilon, senior adviser Valerie Jarrett, and Vice President Biden’s chief of staff, Ron Klain. Obama could also choose an outsider, who would breathe some fresh air into a West Wing that has at times felt under siege. CIA director Leon Panetta and deficit commission co-chair Erskine Bowles are two possibilities. Both did tours as chief of staff under Clinton.