The Obama White House’s links to the Chicago political machine grew even stronger Thursday, with the appointment of former Clinton-era Commerce Secretary William M. Daley as White House chief of staff.
Daley, younger brother of Chicago's current mayor Richard M. Daley, will serve as permanent successor to former chief of staff Rahm Emanuel.
Emanuel resigned in October to campaign for mayor of Chicago.
In announcing the appointment Thursday afternoon, Obama praised Daley as “an experienced public civil servant, a devoted patriot.” He also called him “my friend and fellow Chicagoan.”
Naming Daley to the powerful chief of staff post could signal that Obama’s detente with big business prior to the 2012 election is now in full swing.
Unlike Emanuel, Daley brings strong business credentials to the White House. A free-trader who championed former President Clinton’s NAFTA initiatives, Daley spent nearly seven years as a senior executive at J.P. Morgan Chase.
The Daley appointment suggests Obama, who was never considered an insider in the Chicago political machine, has traveled full circle in his view of the central significance of the private sector.
In a December 2009 "60 Minutes" interview, Obama stated, “I did not run for office to be helping out a bunch of fat-cat bankers on Wall Street.”
Now, just 13 months later, Obama has named one of those Wall Street bankers to help run his administration.
According to White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, who himself announced yesterday he will leave the White House after the president’s State of the Union address later this month, characterized the current staff shuffle in the White House as “a pretty major retooling.”
On the surface, the choice of Daley, a skilled administrator who is well liked by the media, suggests that Obama is once again ignoring pundits who say he should open his administration up to outside voices.
Daley, 62, is not an Obama insider. But he and the president often crossed paths in Chicago, met on several occasions, and were said to share a mutual respect.
The significance of the Daley appointment will be both symbolic and substantive. He will fill a role that many pundits believe is second only to the president’s in terms of Washington’s most valued currency, power.
Daley’s rise to power will be closely scrutinized for signals indicating the direction of “Obama 2.0” — the new mid-course correction that the president promised in the wake of Democrats’ Nov.2 midterm “shellacking.”
With longtime Obama aides Gibbs and senior adviser David Axelrod leaving the White House in coming weeks, Daley will have a unique opportunity to shape both the tone and direction of the final two years of Obama’s first term, which will be critical to his hopes to win re-election.
Emanuel was known for a sharp-elbowed politics and profane tirades that contrasted starkly with promises then-candidate Obama made to reduce the partisan rancor in Washington. Daley is considered a more even-tempered centrist.
Emanuel became a lightning rod for liberal Democrats, who felt he was pushing the administration too far toward the center politically.
On that count, the choice of Daley is unlikely to placate the president’s critics on the left.
Although progressive standard-bearer Howard Dean endorsed the Daley selection as a “huge plus,” Daley’s appointment also signals that the administration recognizes it must conduct damage repair with the U.S. business community.
For months, CEOs have complained about hostile administration rhetoric, job-killing uncertainty, and the thousands of pages of regulations contained in the president’s signature pieces of legislation.
It is likely no coincidence then that the White House also announced Thursday that the president will present a speech on Feb. 7 to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
The chamber has probably challenged President Obama’s big-government agenda more than any other group in Washington.
The chamber spent over $35 million to elect Republicans in November.
In an October campaign rally in Maryland, President Obama intimated that the chamber’s activities were disreputable, saying: "So groups that receive foreign money are spending huge sums to influence American elections, and they won't tell you where the money for their ads come from.”
Asked by "Face the Nation" host Bob Schieffer how the administration knew the chamber’s campaign ad money was coming from foreign sources, which would be illegal, senior adviser David Axelrod shot back, “Well, do you have any evidence that it’s not, Bob?”
Thomas J. Donohue, the president and CEO of the chamber, praised the Daley appointment Thursday.
Donohue called Daley “a man of stature and extraordinary experience in government, business, trade negotiations, and global affairs.”
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