White House loses chief of staff, gains election-year caretaker

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
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Meet the 2012 caretaker for the White House: Jacob Lew, long-time Democratic manager, policy wonk and budget dealmaker. His arrival in the West Wing means the President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden can quit their day jobs and stay almost full-time on the campaign trail.

Meanwhile, the outgoing chief of staff, Bill Daley, will return to his home in the Democrat-dominated state of Illinois.

Daley was hired shortly after Democrats’ stinging defeat in the 2010 midterm elections to help build ties between Obama and both the GOP and the business sector. But those efforts at compromise needed Obama’s approval, which Daley didn’t get.

Instead, his outreach efforts were trumped by Obama’s political priorities, which included tax increases, expanded government regulation of business and constant conflict with the GOP’s majority in the House and minority in the Senate.

In contrast, Lew has worked for years as an agency manager, budget negotiator and policy wonk. That’s a resume tailor-made for someone who is expected to handle many important decisions while the principals are out kissing babies, damning Republicans and scoring donations.

Daley’s departure — and Lew’s ascension — leaves Obama and his political team with more freedom to set their 2012 calendar.

This Wednesday, for example, Obama is slated to showcase several international companies that are hiring people in the United States. The White House event is titled the “In-Sourcing American Jobs Forum.” (RELATED: Full coverage of the Obama White House)

On the same day, Biden will grab Education Secretary Arne Duncan for a trip to the must-win swing-state of Ohio — it has 18 electoral votes in November — to present the administration’s education pitch to cash-strapped parents.

White House officials, however, are trying to downplay Obama’s focus on his re-election.

“The campaign, when it comes, in terms of his enhanced engagement, will consume more time at the appropriate time,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said today.

For now, Obama “is very focused on his number-one priority, which is doing everything he can as President, working with Congress or using his executive authority or working with the private sector, to grow the economy and create jobs,” Carney said.

In some ways, Lew and Daley are interchangeable.

Lew graduated from Harvard University and Georgetown Law School, worked in a variety of jobs for Capitol Hill Democrats and President Bill Clinton, and then ran Citigroup’s Alternative Investments unit from 2006 until Obama hired him.

Daley was the seventh child of Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, attended Loyola University Chicago, got his law degree, worked for President Clinton, and served on the board of mortgage-giant Fannie Mae from 1993 to 1997. Those were the years during which it adopted mortgage policies that would eventually create the housing bubble which caused so much profit and loss for banks, including Lew’s Citigroup.

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