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Gibbs Exiting White House as More Staff Changes Expected for Obama

January 5, 2011 at 3:58 PM EDT
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Calling his years working with President Obama an "honor and a privilege," Robert Gibbs announced Wednesday that he will step down to become an outside adviser to the president. Judy Woodruff talks to Political Editor David Chalian about the latest departure from the administration and the anticipation of more personnel changes.
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GWEN IFILL: The first in a series of expected high-profile personnel changes at the White House began to take shape today.

Judy Woodruff has that story.

JUDY WOODRUFF: White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs announced today that he’s stepping down in early February. He plans to become an outside political adviser to President Obama and his reelection campaign. His successor has yet to be named.

Meeting with reporters, Gibbs said it’s been an honor and a privilege to work for the president, as he spoke publicly about his decision for the first time.

WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY ROBERT GIBBS: What I’m going to do next is step back a little bit, recharge some. And we’ve been going at this pace for at least four years. I will have an opportunity, I hope, to give some speeches. I will continue to provide advice and counsel to — to this building and to this president. And I look forward to continuing to do that.

JUDY WOODRUFF: For more on the changes afoot at the White House, we turn to NewsHour political editor David Chalian.

David, thanks for talking with us about this.

DAVID CHALIAN: Our — my pleasure.

JUDY WOODRUFF: All right.

So, Robert Gibbs, there are few aides in the White House as close to the president as he is. He’s been with him for over six years. Give us some background.

DAVID CHALIAN: Well, he joined up with President Obama, with then Senate candidate Obama, in 2004. So, you’re right about that.

It is a unique relationship. It is probably the closest press secretary/president relationship we have seen in some time, total access, one of his closest confidants. And that’s not going away. Although Robert Gibbs is going to leave the White House, as he announced today, he’s still going to be constantly providing advice to President Obama. And the president himself said he wouldn’t want that to change.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And we heard Gibbs say, acknowledge — he said, there’s a bubble here in the White House, and he said the president is going to need some fresh voices.

DAVID CHALIAN: There’s no doubt. He will need fresh voices on the inside. The president has acknowledged that as well.

But these voices on the outside — David Axelrod, another close, close adviser, is leaving to go get started on the reelect campaign in Chicago. Rahm Emanuel has already left. We have seen advisers leave, and yet they still are able to provide advice to the president.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Now, one of the names in the air, David, is Bill Daley, former commerce secretary — not only name in the air. He was seeing — he was at the White House today for a meeting.

What would he bring, if he were to come in as chief of staff?

DAVID CHALIAN: Well, right. He may be the Rahm Emanuel replacement.

And what — in talking to White House aides, what the president is looking for is — and the decision is not yet clear. You have Bill Daley or Pete Rouse, who is interim chief of staff right now, who may also be asked by the president to stay on if Bill Daley doesn’t get the job offer.

But, as you mentioned, he was at the White House today — all signs pointing to a Bill Daley coming in as chief of staff. And this is Obama basically saying, as president, these next two years are different than the first two years. The first two years were about getting legislation through the Hill.

Now it’s about the implementation of those policies and a better selling and communicating of them to the American people. That’s the one area where the president has said he’s fallen down a bit on the job.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, are these people who are seen as better communicators, or — or how is that seen?

DAVID CHALIAN: Well, Bill Daley, as a former commerce secretary in the second term of the Clinton administration — he was Al Gore’s campaign chairman in 2000, and he does have the ability to communicate the message on television.

He also sends a very strong signal to the business community, Judy. As you know, the Obama presidency, the Obama White House has had a tough time, rocky relationship at times with the business community. This is a signal, with his work at J.P. Morgan Chase, that Bill Daley is coming in, and perhaps a new — a newfound relationship with the business community from the Obama White House.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, all in all, the term Robert Gibbs used today, major retooling.

DAVID CHALIAN: There is no denying that that is exactly what’s going on in the White House. And Robert admitted that straight up.

You are going to see a new chief of staff, new senior advisers. We’re going to hear on Friday from the president about a new economic chief at the national of — economic advisers for the president.

So, we’re seeing major positions in the White House get all changed around, new blood coming in. This is going to be a big pivot point for the president. And we will hear more about that, I think, in the upcoming State of the Union address.

JUDY WOODRUFF: David Chalian, thank you.

DAVID CHALIAN: Sure.