Key Obama insider David Axelrod confirmed Thursday he will be leaving the administration next year, and White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel is now expected to leave his post as early as next month.
These latest defections add to the perception that "no-drama Obama" officials are rushing for the White House exits before voters deliver their midterm evaluation of President Obama's "hope and change" agenda.
"I'll be here well into 2011," Axelrod wrote Thursday in an e-mail to Fox News. "At some point, I'll leave to work on reelect."
Axelrod and Emanuel are the two advisers Obama probably relies on the most. Emanuel, whose profane tirades are legendary, is now thought likely to leave the White House as early as October in order to prepare his run for mayor of Chicago.
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Axelrod, of course, will continue to work for the president, but in a more overtly political capacity. He will try to help Team Obama recapture the lost political mojo that propelled Obama to the White House.
The Axelrod and Emanuel news followed a rash of recent top-level resignations.
On Tuesday, senior presidential adviser Larry Summers announced he would be leave the administration and return to Harvard University.
Other recent departures include economics adviser Christina Romer, who had issued the ill-fated prediction that the stimulus would hold unemployment below 8 percent; and Peter Orszag, the White House budget director who recently broke with the administration and called for extension of all Bush-era tax cuts.
Also, the assistant Treasury secretary for financial stability who helped oversee the TARP program, Herbert Allison, announced Wednesday that he is returning to Connecticut for family reasons.
Despite the apparent high-level shake up, the White House is working overtime to assure the media that the defections are completely routine and have nothing to do with the flagging economy, or the president's plummeting poll numbers.
Dan Pfeiffer, the White House communications director, insisted everything is business as usual at the White House.
"Every presidency has transitions after two years,” he said according to Politico.com. “These are hard taxing jobs and it makes sense that some people would move on. The hyperventilation and the parlor games may be unavoidable, but they don't signal anything unusual.”
But so many high level advisers jumping ship before the midterms, at a time when the departures could be viewed as evidence of turmoil and policy blunders, seems remarkable.
Best-selling author and Fox News commentator Dick Morris agrees the resignations are related to the president's declining fortunes.
"I think that there is a desire to scapegoat already for the impending catastrophe the Democrats are going to face in 2010," Morris tells Newsmax.TV in an exclusive interview.
Morris adds those leaving have a personal interest in doing so as well.
“I think there’s a feeling — I’m guessing — by a lot of these Obama appointees, particularly on the economic team, but also a guy like Emanuel, that Obama might be a one-term president and that they better get out and set up their careers while the getting is good,” says Morris, a Newsmax contributor. “If you want to be a lobbyist or you want to run for mayor, or you want to become a lobbyist [or] a consultant, you’d best do that when your guy is still in power and still has two years left on his term, rather than after you lost a re-election campaign.”
Richard Grenell, who served as a spokesman for four U.S. ambassadors to the United Nations, quipped Thursday that "Clearly they all wanted to spend more time with their families, right?"
Speaking in an exclusive Newsmax.TV interview, Grenell says he doesn't buy the spin coming from the White House that the sudden exits are unrelated to the economy.
"I think really all these economic advisers in the Obama administration have really been forced to resign," he says, "and hopefully their reputations have been ruined because they couldn't deliver."
Grenell adds: "The unemployment rate is the highest that it's been since the Carter days. Our economy has not turned itself around from the incredible amount of stimulus money that was pumped into it.
"And Obama and his administration, including the Democrats in Congress, continue to spend our way out of this. It's like they don't understand that government doesn't create jobs. As my grandfather used to always say to me, 'No poor person ever hired me.'"
Although Axelrod confirmed his departure, Emanuel's exit is less certain.
A senior White House adviser told CBS News correspondent Chip Reid there is a "decent chance" Emanuel will leave the White House before the midterms to launch his candidacy for mayor of Chicago.
That would be at odds with the understanding President Obama expressed when questions about Emanuel arose in a Sept. 10 interview on ABC's Good Morning America.
"My expectation is, he'd make a decision after these midterm elections," Obama said. "He knows that we've got a lot of work to do. But I think he'd be a terrific mayor."
Emanuel is apparently either unwilling or unable to abide by Obama's timetable.
In the past week, Emanuel has been seen meeting with Chicago's congressional delegation, seeking feedback on the issues expected to dominate next year's race for Chicago Mayor. One prominent Democrat told Politico that Emanuel is poised to flee across the Potomac.
“Yeah, he’s going to run -- provided his wife doesn’t pull the plug,” that source said.
The spate of unexpected departure announcements just 40 days from the November election once again muddled White House efforts to keep the message focus on Obama's efforts to fix the economy.
"Clearly, the team has lost consensus, coherence, and commitment to a fiscal plan," Douglas Schoen, author of Mad as Hell: How the Tea Party Movement is Fundamentally Remaking Our Two-Party System," told Newsmax Tuesday. "And with Romer's, Orszag's, and now Summers' departure, it is clear the Obama administration will need a new approach and new direction following what is likely to be a November election defeat."
Inside and outside the White House, attention is turning to how the president may use the sudden job openings to recast his administration.
A Financial Times commentary said Obama's next appointments could represent a watershed for his presidency.
“It will be up to Mr. Obama to make replacing Mr. Summers and the rest of the team more than a personnel exercise,” the Financial Times’ David Rothkopf wrote. “He needs to make it a real mid-course correction.
"Because in the end, his re-election and his legacy will turn on the big economic decisions he and his new team will make in the months ahead.”
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