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White House Cheat Sheet: What Ellen Moran's Departure Means (And Doesn't)

The White House at sunrise. AP Photo by Ron Edmonds

The sudden departure of White House communications director Ellen Moran earlier this week has set off a debate among Washington insiders about what it means for a White House on the verge of the 100 day mark.

Seeking to cut through the clutter, the Fix spoke with a number of knowledgeable people -- both inside and outside the White House -- to get the straight scoop on why Moran left and what it says about the administration's message machine.

Based on those conversations, here's our quickie guide to what Moran's decision to leave 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue means (and what it doesn't).

What It Means

* A Misstep from the Start: Moran's specialty was management -- as the head of EMILY's List -- not communications. Thrusting her into the most pressure-filled and visible communications job in politics was, um, not a smart move. The job as envisioned by Obama's top brass -- that Moran would manage large scale message operations -- never really materialized, leaving her without an obvious role.

* A Tight Inner Circle: One of the strengths of Obama as a candidate and as a president is that he has a small group of top-level decision-makers that he relies on and trusts and who, in turn, rely on and trust one another. Breaking into that circle is extremely difficult for someone who had no role in the campaign. That's particularly true with the communications operation, which has the longest and deepest ties to Obama of any department in the White House. People like White House press secretary Robert Gibbs, deputy communications director Dan Pfeiffer, deputy press secretary Bill Burton and spokesman Tommy Vietor have been with Obama for years -- and it's nearly impossible to replicate the loyalty won in the trenches of a campaign.

* A Grueling Pace: Working in the White House is never a nine-to-five job but the economic crisis with which this administration has been dealing for the last 93 days coupled with the massive growth of media outlets (blogs, niche issue sites, etc.) means an exponential increase in the daily workload for the communications director. Moran has two young children and balancing her family life and her professional life proved impossible.

What It Doesn't Mean

* A Press Shop Panic: There was no single incident that crystallized the sense that Moran was out of place in her job but rather just a growing realization that it wasn't the right fit. Because Moran's role was never entirely defined and because several of her deputies already had far deeper relationships with the president, there's not likely to be a major dropoff when she is gone. The biggest question is who will replace her; White House officials kept tight lipped about the specific names in the running but no announcement will come before tomorrow.

* Women Are Not Welcome: Yes, it is true that with the exception Democratic consultant Anita Dunn, the Obama political team trends heavily toward white men. But, the whispering in some circles suggesting that the Obama team is a boys club isn't entirely fair -- Valerie Jarrett is among Obama's closest advisers; Mona Sutphen, the subject of a terrific profile by the Post's Scott Wilson serves as a deputy chief of staff; and Melody Barnes is charged with overseeing all domestic policy at the White House.

What to Watch For:

Thursday's Fix Picks: If you don't like them, don't blame us: we were in Trinidad all weekend.

1. Dan Balz on the difficulty of Obama's "never look back" approach.
2. Hillary on the Hill.
3. Norm Coleman asks for a delay. Not kidding.
4. California Lt. Gov. John Garamendi drops from governor's race to a congressional seat.
5. On the strength of Fix iPhone purchase, Apple earnings soar.

Plouffe to Collect Cash for DNC: David Plouffe, who managed President Obama's campaign in 2008, is headed to Florida tomorrow to raise money for the Democratic National Committee, according to an informed source. While Plouffe started the 2008 campaign not well known outside the world of political operatives, he emerged from it a star -- thanks in large part to a series of YouTube videos shot in his office in Chicago. While Plouffe opted not to join the official White House staff, he remains an extremely influential adviser to the president and plays a central role in the care and feeding of the 13 million-person email list gathered during the campaign, now controlled by Organizing for America. The Florida fundraiser isn't the first time Plouffe has helped the DNC raise cash. Late last year he sent out an email asking for contributions to help the national party committee cut into its $15 million debt.

Reynolds To Start Lobbying Practice: Former New York Rep. Tom Reynolds (N.Y.), who led the National Republican Congressional Committee in the 2004 and 2006 election cycle, has joined the law firm of Nixon Peabody and will start their government affairs practice in D.C. "I'm excited to be a part of this team and provide insight on issues ranging from tax policy to international trade to health care," said Reynolds.

Corzine's Plummet Continues: New polling out of New Jersey shows Gov. Jon Corzine (D) in serious electoral trouble with his reelection race just over six months away. Corzine is behind former U.S. Attorney Chris Christie (R) by a 45 percent to 38 percent and in a dead heat with former Bogota mayor Steve Lonegan (R), according to numbers released by Quinnipiac University Wednesday. The Lonegan numbers are particularly revealing as he is almost unknown to Garden State voters (72 percent said they didn't know enough about him to offer an opinion) and therefore his vote share is almost entirely the result of an "anyone but Corzine" mentality. That sentiment is reflected in Corzine's weak personal ratings; 39 percent view him favorably while 50 percent see him in an unfavorable light. The Quinnipiac numbers affirm other data in the race that shows Corzine in free fall; this race is now Republicans' best chance of a pickup in the 2009 cycle.

"Party of No" (Cont'd.): Americans United, the leading liberal group operating in the third party arena these days, and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) are going up with a new ad today aiming to further the idea that the GOP is devoid of new ideas. The ad's narrator lists some of the legislation passed by the Democratic Congress to date -- "equal pay for women," "a budget blueprint that lays a foundation for long term prosperity," before adding: "There have always been those who said no to progress. But in times of crisis, Americans have never taken no for an answer." The ad is the latest in a series of attempts by Democrats -- and their allied groups -- to argue that Republicans have only opposition to offer the American people. The strategy has scored some success, forcing Republicans into rushing out their own alternative budget proposal in an attempt to answer the charge. Americans United would not reveal the exact amount being spent on the ad but sources familiar with the buy said it was in the five figures and targeted in the D.C. cable market -- meaning that it is aimed more at the political class than average voters.

Patricia Murphy, Columnist: Patricia Murphy, Democratic Senate operative turned television star, has signed a deal to write a column for the soon-to-be-launched AOL politics site known as "Politics Daily." Murphy, who did stints with Sens. Max Cleland (Ga.), Richard Bryan (Nev.) and Sam Nunn (Ga.) before starting Citizen Jane Politics in 2008, will be writing a column called "The Capitolist" that will look at Capitol Hill, the media and politics. Murphy joins a stellar group at the new venture -- which will launch Monday -- that includes the Chicago Sun Times's Lynn Sweet, former USA Today reporter Jill Lawrence, Walter Shapiro of Salon, Carl Cannon of National Journal and others.

Best iPhone Apps: As always, a big thanks to the Fix twitterers for their recommendations: Google, Shazam, and Readitlater.

Say What?: "If you go in the back of the plane, Air Force One, and spray paint the walls and smoke in the bathroom, the president isn't going to determine whether you broke the law; a legal official is going to determine whether you broke the law." -- White House press secretary Robert Gibbs trying to explain the White House's position on the CIA interrogations.

By Chris Cillizza  |  April 23, 2009; 5:42 AM ET
Categories:  Cheat Sheet Share This:  E-Mail | Technorati | Del.icio.us | Digg | Stumble Previous: Matt Drudge -- Nowhere Man?
Next: John Ensign's Unapologetic Critique

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Posted by: scrivener50 | April 23, 2009 11:15 AM | Report abuse

No, give those now.

Posted by: mattintx | April 23, 2009 10:56 AM | Report abuse


Stay tuned for further details.

Posted by: scrivener50 | April 23, 2009 10:54 AM | Report abuse

"Apparently used"? If you have to beg the question with a word like "apparently," guess what? It wasn't apparent.

Is there evidence to support the claim?

Posted by: mattintx | April 23, 2009 10:41 AM | Report abuse

Very inside baseball.



Bush-Cheney- spawned torture is NOT just a foreign affair.

The "Extrajudicial Punishment Network" it created or expanded enables citizen vigilantes affiliated with federally-funded volunteer community policing and public safety groups to stalk, harass, terrorize -- and YES, torture. With microwave radiation "directed energy weapons" -- like the ones apparently used at Gitmo.

This "American Gestapo" has co-opted and corrupted local law enforcement nationwide -- a grassroots-based authoritarian apparatus "hiding in plain sight."

Please, White House staff, read this. Your Bush holdovers already know all about it.

What have they told YOU?


OR (if links are corrupted / disabled):


Posted by: scrivener50 | April 23, 2009 10:21 AM | Report abuse

"Norm Coleman asks for a delay. Not kidding."

Yes and no. Coleman filed notice of appeal. Franken filed a suggested schedule - on the expedited side of the timeframe. Coleman filed a response, arguing that Franken's schedule is too expedited. While Coleman's brief supports the allegations that he seeks to prolong the process, the reality is that such back and forths are normal parts of any trial. Having said that, it does seem curious that a guy who's fighting so hard to get his seat back doesn't seem to be in much of a hurry to actually return to the Senate. Strange.

Posted by: bsimon1 | April 23, 2009 10:13 AM | Report abuse

Nancy Jean - All women not from the Ill machine or campain are windows dressing, huh? Evidently that news didn't filter through to the Secretary of State.

As for the Post, perhaps you should turn to the editorial page. Ruth Marcus, for example.


Posted by: FairlingtonBlade | April 23, 2009 9:51 AM | Report abuse

Really.. The GR8T Communicator.. probably doesn't need any help.. anywayz.

Posted by: newbeeboy | April 23, 2009 9:11 AM | Report abuse

And we care because...?

Slow news day?

Posted by: broadwayjoe | April 23, 2009 9:08 AM | Report abuse

Cite, please, for that "second cousin" claim, zukette?

Posted by: mattintx | April 23, 2009 8:30 AM | Report abuse

a blithe dismissal of the boyz klub critique from yet another entitled white male.
citing Val Jarrett as an example of women empowered in the WH is a hoot. she's Mrs. Obama's second cousin - google it. Jarrett was a conduit into Chicago politics for the first lady and she gets tribute now. this is no secret.
Moran was run off in the same way pig-in-chief Larry Summers, Greenspan and their mini-me Geithner ran off Brooksley Born.
if you didn't campaign for The One (for years) or didn;t come from the Chicago/Ill. machine - and you are not on the boyz klub tennis ladder - then you are window dressing for this admin.
interesting to note that "journalists" and others who bent over backwards to help The One slide into place as a somber occasion similar to a pope's elevation are happy to shrug win indifference when yet another qualified woman is elbowed aside. it's 'cool' to base everything on racial considerations and personality but an annoyance to even consider gender issues.
ladies, boycott the Wash Post. Don't reward them with your hard-earned dollars via subscription. your clicks don't gain them much - your paid subscription does.
all the metro columnists are men.
ladies - cancel that paper!

Posted by: nancyjeanmail | April 23, 2009 8:07 AM | Report abuse

Personnel problems always take care of themselves.

Posted by: newbeeboy | April 23, 2009 7:58 AM | Report abuse

It seems the loony left and the puppet in chief see now seriously vying for worst president ever. Another complete buffoon named janet emerges from the lib asylum.

Posted by: king_of_zouk | April 23, 2009 7:40 AM | Report abuse

She wasn't part of the campaign inner circle. Probably got teased for missing a part of history...


Posted by: parkerfl1 | April 23, 2009 7:38 AM | Report abuse

Morans departure actually in the grand scheme of things has no impact. No more need to be said. Just plug another speaking head in and get the same BS back... But the truth is the universe is forever expanding so he leaving has no measurable impact.. Great column... More dead space...

Posted by: robinhood2 | April 23, 2009 7:02 AM | Report abuse

Nice analysis, Chris.

Posted by: Bitter_Bill | April 23, 2009 6:24 AM | Report abuse

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