Less than two years after President Obama touted an economic "dream team" to save the U.S. economy, the dream is officially over.
That reality struck home with Tuesday's surprise announcement by top White House economic adviser Larry Summers that he will leave the administration by year's end.
With time now running out for Democrats to head off a landslide in the November midterms, it appears that nightmarish unemployment and plummeting approval ratings have brought Democrats a rude awakening. Summers' announcement Tuesday came less than a month after House Minority Leader John Boehner urged Obama to demand the resignation of his entire team of economic advisers.
Summers' exit follows hard on the heels of the departure of budget chief Peter Orszag, who has publicly broken with the White House by urging an extension of the Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthy that Obama opposes.
White House chief economist Christina Romer also has left. She recently expressed regrets over her now-infamous projection that spending $1 trillion in stimulus would hold U.S. unemployment below 8 percent.
News of Summers' departure immediately triggered speculation about other possible departures from the administration, including controversial Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner.
One major White House figure likely to go: Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, who has been a key player in selling the president's agenda to congressional Democrats. Emanuel is said to covet the opportunity to run for mayor of Chicago.
Democratic pollster and Fox News commentator Douglas Schoen tells Newsmax that Summers' exit appears to reflect a deterioration in economic policymaking within the White House.
"Clearly, the team has lost consensus, coherence, and commitment to a fiscal plan," Schoen tells Newsmax.
"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," says Schoen, co-author of "Mad as Hell: How the Tea Party Movement is Fundamentally Remaking Our Two-Party System."
The announcement by Summers, who reportedly had to be talked out of resigning in late 2009, marked the breathtakingly rapid demise of Obama's much-touted economics team.
The heavily academic group was highly criticized by Republicans and Wall Street for lacking a single person with notable real-world business experience.
Many pundits now speculate that President Obama will add at least one adviser with corporate experience to help right the economic ship and repair his image with the denizens of Wall Street.
One name being mentioned in the media is R. Glenn Hubbard, the Columbia University's business school dean who, ironically, helped craft the 2003 Bush tax cuts, the full extension of which the president now opposes.
Another is William "Bill" Gross, co-founder of the Pacific Investment Management Co. investment firm. There has been no indication Gross would be interested in such a high-profile job in the White House, however.
At Monday's town hall, which aired live on CNBC, Obama appeared to hint at an impending high-level shake-up.
He said his economic team had worked very hard for two years and will "have a whole range of decisions about family that'll factor into" their futures.
Obama said he had not made any decisions about changing personnel, but the press widely interpreted his remarks as a signal that heads on his economic team soon could roll.
The White House tried to squelch that talk Monday, insisting that the president was signaling nothing more than support for his beleaguered team.
Asked earlier Tuesday whether a shake-up was looming, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said: “The president is enormously pleased with the efforts of each of them in what has been very trying times. Again, it's not for me to comment on or to make decisions for individuals that decide again they're going to go back to doing what they were doing before."
That the White House would deny a shake-up that took place the following day could be viewed as indication of message turmoil at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., given the prediction by some pundits of a tsunami of GOP wins in November.
A post-midterm shake-up of the White House economic team is hardly unusual. In 2002, former President George W. Bush bid adieu to Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill and national economics adviser Lawrence B. Lindsey.
O'Neill and Lindsey, however, got the boot after the midterms. Their departures marked the first major personnel shift of Bush's administration.
That the economic team appears to be disintegrating now could indicate the pressure to reassure the markets of a policy shift is greater than generally recognized. But House Democrats, who have complained the White House sometimes appears less than fully engaged in their re-election efforts, may not agree with Obama's priorities.
In accepting Summers' resignation letter, the president stated he appreciates his service during a period of "great peril for our country."
"While we have much work ahead to repair the damage done by the recession, we are on a better path thanks in no small measure to Larry's wise counsel," Obama said.
CNBC Chief Washington Correspondent John Harwood, host of the Monday town hall where voters gave Obama a brutally frank evaluation of his economic policies, said Tuesday afternoon that the Summers move probably doesn't indicate a shift in overall policies.
"I think it's more about sending a signal of change, than it is about a change in direction of policy," Harwood told CNBC. "I think this is also Larry Summers' decision. It is useful for the administration to be able to have a reset and have fresh blood in the administration."
Harwood said the president continues to have confidence in his treasury secretary, saying, "I think it is likely that Timothy Geithner will stay."
He pointed out the administration will need "to convey stability as well as to bring in fresh blood" after the midterms.
Although Harwood agreed that the administration probably would like to invite an established CEO to join its ranks, he cautioned the administration may have difficulty finding a suitable candidate.
"First of all, you've got to find a CEO who is friendly and sympathetic with the president," Harwood said. "Secondly, someone who is willing to endure the difficulties of the public eye and the public spotlight."
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