WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama announced unexpectedly on Monday that chief of staff William Daley was quitting and heading home, capping a short and rocky tenure that had been expected to last until Election Day in November.
Obama budget director Jack Lew, a figure long familiar with Washington’s ways, is to take over one of the most consuming jobs in America.
Daley’s run as Obama’s chief manager and gatekeeper lasted only a year. It was filled with consequential moments for the White House, like the killing of al-Qaida terrorist leader Osama bin Laden, but also stumbles with Congress and grumbles that Daley was not the right choice to coordinate an intense operation of ideas, egos and decisions.
Obama said he reluctantly accepted the news and at first had refused to accept Daley’s post-holidays resignation letter last week.
Daley did not waver, expressing to his boss a desire to get back to his family in Chicago, where Daleys have dominated local politics for decades. He offered no explanation on Monday about what accelerated his decision; he had committed to Obama that he would stay on through the election.
It apparently became clear that the fit was no longer working for either side. Senior adviser Pete Rouse already had taken on more of the day-to-day management.
Stepping in is the mild-mannered Lew, who began his career as a staffer in Congress, where he spent almost a decade as principal domestic policy adviser to House Speaker Tip O’Neill. Lew has worked for Obama as a deputy secretary of state before becoming budget director, the same position he held in the President Bill Clinton’s administration.
Daley had been brought in for his political savvy, business ties and experience as Commerce secretary. Yet as an outsider, despite his background with the top political family in Chicago, Obama’s hometown, Daley did not personally know Obama well. That meant he had to figure out the president and run his operation simultaneously. He did not seem to mesh as the one, more than anyone, charged with ensuring a smooth operation.
The president delivered the other side of the story, describing Daley as highly influential and effective.
“No one in my administration has had to make more important decisions more quickly than Bill. And that’s why I think this decision was difficult for me,” Obama said in a State Dining Room that was nearly empty except for the assembled media.
The mood was decidedly more low-key than other transitions involving the top staff job at the White House.
Obama now plows ahead in an election year with his third chief of staff — one of the most crucial positions in the U.S. government and national politics. Daley had replaced the colorful and involved-in-everything Rahm Emanuel, who left the job to run for Chicago mayor, a position he now holds. Rouse also served as interim chief of staff for a stretch.
Those following Washington politics had seen this day coming, especially since Rouse took on more of Daley’s traditional role in November. Although Obama praised Daley at length for his help on major decisions in 2011, the West Wing presidential section had endured private struggles with coordination and communication, particularly with Congress.
Daley was not pushed out the door, said a Democratic strategist familiar with the decision The timing was driven by Daley’s personal reflection, yet it also would have become more awkward for the White House had he not left before Obama’s tone-setting State of the Union, said the strategist, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the personnel matter.
The State of the Union speech is Jan. 24, followed closely by the release of his White House budget proposal in early February. The chief-of-staff transition is expected by the end of the month, with Lew staying on at the Office of Management and Budget until the budget plan is released. It is unclear who will lead the agency after that.
Lew and Daley stood with the president on Wednesday but did not speak. The White House said neither man was giving interviews.
Lew’s private sector experience includes a stint as managing director and chief operating officer of Citigroup’s global wealth management division.
Daley, meanwhile, will serve as co-chairman of Obama’s Chicago-based re-election efforts, said a campaign official, who requested anonymity ahead of the official announcement.
Unlike Daley, Lew comes with deep connections to Congress, where Obama’s relationship with lawmakers is a source of constant debate.
Coming after Emanuel, a former congressman and a leader of his Democratic Party caucus, Daley’s relationship with congressional Democrats was hardly smooth.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, the top Democrat in Congress, sent out an upbeat statement on Lew (“a consummate professional with intimate knowledge of Congress”) and Daley (for “handling crises few chiefs of staff have had to face.”)
Associated Press writers Erica Werner and Julie Pace contributed to this report.