WASHINGTON (Reuters) - White House press secretary Robert Gibbs, one of President Barack Obama’s closest aides, said on Wednesday he will resign and become an outside adviser for Obama’s re-election campaign in a major staff shake-up.
Gibbs, 39, a fierce defender of the president at White House news briefings, told reporters he will leave in early February.
A successor to Gibbs is expected to be named within the next couple of weeks. The short list includes Vice President Joe Biden’s top spokesman, Jay Carney, and two of Gibbs’ deputies, Bill Burton and Josh Earnest.
Obama also is in discussions on whether to retain Pete Rouse as White House chief of staff or bring in J.P. Morgan Chase executive William Daley for the job. A decision may come this week.
In a sign that Obama may be getting close to a decision, Daley was at the White House on Wednesday for talks with Obama and other officials. Daley was commerce secretary for President Bill Clinton and administration sources said he is believed to be prepared to accept the job if it is offered.
In addition, Obama is expected to announce on Friday the members of his new economic team, including the chief of the National Economic Council. Treasury Department aide Gene Sperling appears to have the inside track for that job.
“You’ll be seeing announcements in due course,” Obama told the New York Times. “Obviously, we’ve got a lot of work to do. The American people are expecting us to hit the ground running and start working with this new Congress to promote job growth and keep the recovery going.”
Gibbs departure comes after senior adviser David Axelrod and deputy chief of staff Jim Messina left the White House to work on what could be a difficult re-election campaign for Obama as he seeks to convince Americans he deserves another term despite a stubbornly high 9.8 percent jobless rate.
Gibbs, a veteran of Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign, said at his Wednesday briefing, that the press secretary job is relentless and that it was time to see his family more.
“There is no doubt that this is a tough place to work,” Gibbs said. “It’s time to take a little break.
“There’s a little boy who probably needs a ride to school every now and then,” he said, referring to his young son.
Gibbs is expected to remain in Obama’s inner circle of political advisers, appear on television on Obama’s behalf and make the Democratic argument against Obama’s 2012 Republican challengers.
Gibbs’ departure came as no surprise. He spent two years in the high-profile position, which has a high-burnout rate due to the long work hours.
“In an age of televised briefings, two years is about right for a press secretary,” said Martha Joynt Kumar, a political scientist at Towson University who studies White House communications.
In a statement, Obama called Gibbs a close friend and adviser and said “it’s natural for him to want to step back, reflect and retool.”
“That brings up some challenges and opportunities for the White House — but it doesn’t change the important role that Robert will continue to play on our team,” he said.
After November 3 congressional elections that were disastrous for Democrats, Obama is now revamping his team in order to take account of the new Republican majority in the U.S. House of Representatives and their increased numbers in the Senate.
Axelrod is to return to Chicago and help set up the re-election campaign after the president’s State of the Union address, which could come as early as January 25.
Additional reporting by Patricia Zengerle; editing by Anthony Boadle