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Posted at 2:32 PM ET, 01/ 6/2011

What the Bill Daley hire tells us about the White House

By Chris Cillizza



Incoming White House chief of staff Bill Daley. Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images for Meet the Press

The hiring of former Commerce Secretary William Daley as White House chief of staff is a telling indication of where President Obama sees himself and where he wants to go between now and his 2012 re-election race.

Here's what it tell us:

1. Liberals, schmiberals: Much was written during the lame-duck session of the 111th Congress about the relationship (or lack thereof) between President Obama and the liberal left.

The selection of Daley is further evidence that the White House is paying little attention to the carping on the left. Daley is widely regarded as a business-friendly, pragmatist; he told the New York Times last year that the Administration had "miscalculated" on health care because the country was, at its roots, "center left" not "left".

As expected, liberals howled when the Daley pick was made public, casting him as a corporatist out of step with the broader Administration on any number of issues. (Republicans, of course, gleefully forwarded around those clips to reporters.)

Without a serious figure on the ideological left weighing the idea of a primary challenge to Obama in 2012 -- former Sen. Russ Feingold (Wisc.) and former Gov. Howard Dean (Vt.) are both out of the running -- the White House almost certainly believes that there is little danger in making a move like this one.

2. The Insider's Outsider: No, Daley was not part of the inner core of advisers who helped Obama win the nomination and then the presidency. But, he's not exactly an outsider either. Daley and former White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel have known each other for decades and David Axelrod, perhaps Obama's closest adviser, was the longtime media consultant for Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley -- Bill Daley's brother.

"He's a skilled insider, but with an outsider's sensibilities," said Carter Eskew, a senior Democratic stategist, of Daley.

In picking Daley then, the White House is likely aiming to get credit for going outside of their comfort zone while still putting a known quantity into the job. (Robert Gibbs, himself slated to leave his role as White House press secretary in the near-term, told the Daily Beast's Howard Kurtz that "Bill doesn't come from the Obama orbit" and that he "brings an outside perspective.")

To be sure, it would have easier for the White House to simply hand the reins to Pete Rouse, the insider's insider who had been doing the job since Emanuel resigned the post to run for mayor of Chicago last year. But, the Daley selection is not exactly equivalent of putting a total outsider in the top spot either.

3. Open for Business: One of the lasting -- and most stinging -- criticisms of Obama has come from the business community, which has argued that the president and his Administration have rhetorically (and from a policy perspective) been too hard on them.

Hiring Daley is rightly understood as a peace offering of sorts from the Administration. Daley is currently an executive at J.P. Morgan Chase and is a past president of SBC Communications -- two giant members of corporate America.

Daley "understands both K Street and Wall Street," said Chris Lehane, a California-based Democratic operative. (K Street is the traditional Washington, D.C.-haunt of the lobbying community.)

Put simply: Daley has deep and strong relationships with the business community -- one of the reasons liberals don't like the pick -- and will almost certainly work to mend broken fences with that industry.

Add that to President Obama's planned speech to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce next month and you might have the beginnings of a genuine -- although perhaps short lived -- detente.

4. An outsider for spokesman?: The news of Daley's hiring comes less than 24 hours after Gibbs formally announced his plans to step aside. Daley will almost certainly be intimately involved in the hiring of a replacement for Gibbs' job -- one of the most high profile in the Administration.

And, Daley seems likely to favor bringing someone in from the outside -- as he was -- rather than simply selecting from among Gibbs' loyal lieutenants.

In fact, even before Daley's hiring was made official, senior White House aides made clear that a darkhorse or outsider candidate was the preferred pick to replace Gibbs -- although no names have yet been offered.

The more the Obama Administration is seen as pushing the restart button on the staff level, the easier it is for the president himself to start anew with voters after the very difficult outcome of the 2010 election.

By Chris Cillizza  | January 6, 2011; 2:32 PM ET
Categories:  White House  
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