Changes to a president’s inner circle often move him in one direction, away from the team that surrounded him through the election and toward a more diverse mix of advisers.
But Obama is going in the other direction. His war council will soon look more like his presidential campaign than it has during the first two years of his presidency.
White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel will announce his departure Friday, and is likely to run for mayor of Chicago. He will be replaced by senior adviser Pete Rouse, who has been with Obama since his time as a senator.
But the most significant change to Obama’s innermost ring of advisers will be the subtraction of Emanuel and the imminent addition of David Plouffe, Obama’s former campaign manager. Plouffe is set to enter the West Wing to replace senior adviser David Axelrod, who will leave in April.
The Daily Caller spoke to several sources – inside and outside the White House – who all gave varying levels of confirmation that Plouffe will be at the White House soon, though they gave no indication of how soon after the Nov. 2 election. Plouffe himself declined to comment.
Axelrod, who last week first told TheDC of his plans to leave the White House next year, said Thursday – as he walked into the Atlantic’s Washington Ideas Forum – that he would not comment on “personnel [stuff] that hasn’t happened yet.”
But it is Plouffe’s presence that would be the most significant check on Valerie Jarrett, the close friend and adviser to Obama who stands to only grow in influence with the impending departures of Emanuel and Axelrod, and the president’s forceful economic adviser, Larry Summers. All three men were Jarrett’s rivals to one extent or another, and the news that Jarrett is the one vetting potential replacements for Summers is just the latest sign that she is at the center of the president’s decision-making process.
Plouffe – who was reported to be at odds with Jarrett during the presidential campaign – has been in closer contact with White House officials over the past several months since taking on an advisory role at the Democratic National Committee.
Yet he would nonetheless be at something of a disadvantage in angling for influence with the president for the first few weeks as he came up to speed on the intricacies of how the West Wing works, said Dan Bartlett, who served as a senior adviser to former President George W. Bush.
“If you’re still trying to figure out where to go to the bathroom and where to park the car, and much less how to maneuver through the staffing process … knowing when memos hit the president’s desk, knowing how editing memos can punctuate things in a different way … obviously there’s a little bit of an edge,” Bartlett said.
“As far as how do you maneuver in the White House, that tone is really set by the president, as far as, ‘How does he solicit advice? How does that person consume information? How does that person inform himself?’” Bartlett said.
NEXT: Reactions to Emanuel’s departure and Jarrett’s increased stature
The Washington Democratic establishment is awash with strong reactions to both Emanuel’s departure and Jarrett’s soon to be increased stature inside the White House.
“She has the president’s ear. She has the first lady’s confidence. People know of her importance. They know she occupies a significant piece of real estate over there,” said Donna Brazile, a veteran Democratic strategist who consults regularly with White House officials. “She pulls things together for the president the way he enjoys getting it pulled together. She has served him well.”
But one experienced Democratic political operative groaned when asked about Jarrett’s influence, grimacing and saying that Jarrett has little policy expertise and thinks an occasional dinner with CEOs constitutes outreach to the business community.
“I don’t think she stops anything good from happening,” the Democrat said sarcastically. Jarrett declined to comment for this article.
Another Democrat with years of experience in Washington politics said Jarrett is “not doing [Obama] a great service.”
“She’s not experienced in Washington, inexperienced on policy and inexperienced on politics. And she has very little experience in dealing with the media,” he said.
As for Rahm, the consensus among many in Obama world is good riddance to the larger-than-life chief of staff who joined the team after the election and was never really one of them.
In their view, the president is ridding himself of a self-serving and overly pragmatic firebrand who sacrificed progressive principles for political reasons – especially during the health care debate – and disrupted the relative cohesion around Obama that existed during the campaign.
Now, they can recover the mojo they had, some Obama loyalists believe, with an inner circle that will run the White House more efficiently and manage it more effectively than Rahm has. One Obama adviser called Rahm’s tenure as chief of staff “a shambles.”
Rahm often clashed with the liberal and progressive grassroots, who wanted immediate and drastic action on things like closing the Guantanamo Bay prison, ending the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, and a government-run “public option” in health care. He also has his own extensive network of contacts within the press based on his many years of experience in the city, which allowed him to operate as something of a rogue agent in a West Wing that prizes message control.
But a Rahm defender said the chief of staff was being made a scapegoat for larger, more complex problems that were partly in the nature of the presidency’s challenges and also partly the fault of others inside the White House.
“The Obama White House does not lack for efficiency. It lacks for passion, pragmatism and political balls. Rahm had all three. He leaves a huge hole,” the Rahm ally said. “President Obama is a hugely talented and brilliant guy. And anyone who trashes Rahm is attacking Obama’s judgment in a fundamental way.”