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White House musical chairs

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picture from AFPBy Camille Elhassani

As the new US Congress settles in at one end of Pennsylvania Avenue, new faces are also showing at the other end of Washington's most famous street, the White House.

The staff shuffle in the Obama Administration is an attempt to inject new blood after the shellacking Obama and the Democrats took in last November’s Midterm Elections.  But Obama isn’t waiting to prepare for the next election.  Many of those leaving are heading back onto the campaign trail ahead of the 2012 Presidential contest.

There will likely be at least six new people in key positions in the next few months.

This week, President Barack Obama filled two positions vacated last year.  He announced William Daley will be his next Chief of Staff.  It’s a powerful job.  Daley will be the gatekeeper to the Oval Office responsible for implement the President's agenda.

Daley was Commerce Secretary under President Bill Clinton and is the scion of one of Chicago’s most prominent political families.  His father and brother have served as mayor of Obama’s hometown. Daley is currently an executive at investment giant JP Morgan Chase with strong ties to the business community who is seen as a political moderate.  He’s expected to take over before the end of January.

On Friday, Obama appointed another Clinton administration official to be his top economic adviser.  Gene Sperling has been made the Chairman of the Counsel of Economic Advisers.  With the economy in a shaky recovery but unemployment still high, Obama needs to reshape his economic message to sell to the American public.

Robert Gibbs, the face of the Obama administration also announced his resignation this week.  He says he'll step down early next month.  On the day of his announcement, Gibbs described what it’s like to work at the White House, “You have to admit there’s a bubble in here, to some degree.  So I think having new voices and having fresh voices, some of those voices that are coming back from having taken a couple of years off, are an important part of this process.” But he won't be going far.  Gibbs will remain a political consultant to Obama's 2012 reelection campaign.

Senior White House Adviser David Axelrod is due to go back to Chicago in the next couple of months to prepare for next year's Presidential election.  Obama's 2008 Campaign Manager David Plouffe is expected to become the President’s top adviser.

Deputy Chief of Staff Jim Messina is also expected to go to work on the reelection campaign.

Next month, Obama is expected to retool the President's Economic Recovery Advisory Board, which focuses on America's global economic competitiveness.  The 83-year old Paul Volcker, the chairman, will likely step down next month.

Defence Secretary Robert Gates has indicated he too will leave the administration this year.  Gates has had the job for nearly five years and was first appointed by President George Bush.  He has overseen the Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  In announcing his plans last August to Foreign Policy Magazine, Gates said, “By next year I'll be in a position where, you know, we're going to know whether the strategy is working in Afghanistan. We'll have completed the surge. We'll have done the assessment in December. And it seems like somewhere there in 2011 is a logical opportunity to hand off.”

Many of the new faces of the second half of Obama’s tenure are familiar, from the 2008 campaign or Democratic politics.  And the influence of Chicago remains strong in his replacements. So Obama isn’t stepping far outside the bubble to replace those who are leaving.  The new blood seems recycled.

And the old faces aren’t going far.  For many, they’ll have the same boss – Barack Obama – in their new job.  And they’ll spend their time trying to keep him in office for another term. 

Camille Elhassani is Al Jazeera English's Senior White House Producer.


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