WASHINGTON (Reuters) - White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley’s delegation of power this week resulted from political missteps that angered fellow Democrats, sparking a shift that may help President Barack Obama reconnect with core supporters.
Daley, a former businessman and U.S. commerce secretary, took over as the president’s top aide earlier this year with a mandate to improve relations with the corporate community and streamline White House operations.
But his strategies alienated key parts of Obama’s liberal-leaning base, particularly Democrats in Congress, who bristled at presidential criticism that grouped them with the Republican opposition.
Daley told administration officials Monday he asked Pete Rouse, a longtime Obama hand, to take on a greater operational and coordinating role at the White House.
Rouse is a veteran of Capitol Hill who worked for former Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle before joining Obama’s Senate office in 2005.
Analysts and congressional aides viewed the change as a reaction to Daley’s mistakes. Some saw it as a reflection of Obama’s own dissatisfaction with Daley’s tenure as the president faces a tough re-election battle in November 2012 with the economy struggling and unemployment high.
White House officials portrayed the move as a way to make operations more efficient.
Rouse is well liked by subordinates and ran the White House on an interim basis after Rahm Emanuel, the president’s first chief of staff, stood down last year to run for Chicago mayor.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said Daley asked Rouse to “make more efficient and effective internal communications in the White House and to help with some of the day-to-day management of the place.”
A senior Democratic aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the change stemmed partly from a snafu over Obama’s jobs speech to Congress in September.
The White House was forced to change the date of the address after John Boehner, speaker of the Republican-dominated House of Representatives, rejected the night the administration announced. Daley had given the announcement the green light.
“It was a major embarrassment for the White House,” the aide said.
Daley also was seen as responsible for a strategy that Democrats thought unfairly targeting them and Republicans in Congress with the same critical presidential rhetoric.
“Fundamentally, he had a strategy to position Obama as much against Democrats as Republicans,” the aide said.
White House budget chief Jack Lew said it was normal lawmakers had complaints about the White House and noted that Daley began shortly after the 2010 election when Democrats lost control of the House and seats in the Senate.
“Bill came into a very difficult job at a difficult time and I think has done a great job managing through a series of challenges where, frankly, I think the results are better in fact than some of public recognition of the results,” Lew told the Reuters Washington Summit.
In recent months, Obama has worked harder to repair relations with his liberal-leaning base, focusing scathing attacks on Republicans for not supporting his jobs proposals.
“I don’t think it is a sign of disarray but it is a sign that things have not gone well over the past year,” said Julian Zelizer, a history professor at Princeton University, referring to Daley’s delegation to Rouse.
“Clearly the White House is making a number of changes to strengthen their hand in the coming year -- a more aggressive public relations operation, courting rather than distancing themselves from the base of the party and now diminishing the role of a chief of staff who has been problematic in positioning this president.”
Republicans also criticized Daley’s performance. One senior Republican congressional aide said neither Daley nor Rouse engaged with them in the Senate, which Democrats control.
Democrats were glad to see someone with Rouse’s congressional background elevated.
“Pete Rouse knows Congress,” said one Democratic congressional aide. “Daley is only interested in getting Obama re-elected. In Rouse, Democrats see someone who cares about Congress and knows who they are, who knows their first names.”
Daley remains chief of staff.
One senior administration official said Daley and Rouse were still figuring out their new roles. Daley, the official said, would take on greater responsibilities as a “surrogate” for the president, doing more media work and dealing more closely with outside groups.
Additional reporting by Thomas Ferraro, Caren Bohan, Ross Colvin and Steve Holland; Editing by John O'Callaghan