WASHINGTON – Robert Gibbs, the public face of the Obama presidency, said Wednesday he is stepping down as press secretary amid a string of staff changes meant to carry the White House through the 2012 re-election campaign and parry the Republican takeover of the U.S. House.
Gibbs’ announcement comes as President Barack Obama reconfigures his White House for the second half of the term with a blend of trusted campaign aides and possibly a few fresh faces. Obama will announce his new top economic adviser on Friday, and he may also anoint a new chief of staff in the coming days.
While Obama has a strong rapport with his interim chief of staff, Pete Rouse, the president has not yet decided whether to keep him or replace him with William Daley, a former commerce secretary in the Clinton administration, according to White House aides.
Gibbs’ departure next month is a milestone of sorts. One of the president’s most trusted aides, he signed up for Obama’s 2004 Senate race when the candidate was still an obscure state senator from Illinois. He has been with Obama ever since.
A rarity among White House press secretaries, Gibbs served a dual role as a strategic adviser who sat in on important meetings in the Oval Office. After he leaves he’ll give paid speeches and will become a paid adviser to Obama’s re-election campaign.
Gibbs said he is ready to leave a high-wire existence where even a casual aside uttered at the daily news briefing could potentially result in a stock market crash or an international incident. Gibbs once infuriated Obama’s political base by complaining about the “professional left.” And he angered former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., when, months before the midterm elections, he stated that Republicans could win control of the House. In that, he was proved right.
“He has said the occasional provocative thing; he’s a feisty guy,” said David Axelrod, a senior White House adviser. “But when it comes to the meat of his work, which is conveying the administration’s viewpoint to you guys in the media, he’s been superb. It’s not an easy job. You sit in a dunk tank for an hour and a half every day.”
White House aides said there is no front-runner for the post.
For months, the working assumption among reporters was that Gibbs would be replaced by Bill Burton, who often briefs the media in Gibbs’ absence.
But aides confirmed Wednesday that apart from Burton, candidates include vice presidential spokesman Jay Carney, deputy press secretary Josh Earnest, deputy communications director Jen Psaki, and former ABC News correspondent Linda Douglass.