Yesterday President Obama held a press conference to announce that William Daley—the former commerce secretary who went on to a career at JP Morgan Chase—would be his new White House chief of staff. Politicos watching the White House reshuffle were quick with their reads. Some made the obvious argument that Obama was appealing to business with the move, steering rightward; others countered that it was an unnecessary admission that the administration was previously off track.
For a Daley primer, The New York Times’s Eric Lipton has a nice piece on today’s front page describing the new COS’s business CV. The report, titled “Business Background Defines Chief of Staff,” details Daley’s hiring at Chase, as well as his connections to Boeing and Abbot Labs, and touches on some of the arguments doing the rounds among the pundits today. Lipton leads with what appears to be a settling consensus—that this move was made to appease big business.
Mr. Daley’s recruitment to Pennsylvania Avenue from the corporate boardroom is seen as a smart step by some in Washington, who argue that Mr. Obama has long needed a White House confidant who has the ear of the business community and a record of bipartisanship that might help the president negotiate with Republicans in Congress.
“I think it’s a very, very strong choice,” said Thomas J. Donohue, the president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which has been a harsh critic of the Obama administration and provided financial support that helped Republicans take control of the House in the November elections. “Daley is a business person who understands politics.”
Lipton did some interesting digging—Daley will drop from a salary of $3-5 million to $170,000 (poor diddums)—and outlines the potential conflicts of interest his business background could bring about.
Critics of Mr. Daley’s appointment said his corporate work would cause problems. They argue that he will have to recuse himself from matters relating to Chase, Abbott and Boeing or bow out of discussions involving financial regulations, health care and major Defense Department acquisitions, like the contract for a giant Air Force refueling tanker for which Boeing is competing.
“These are all issues that come across the chief of staff’s desk,” said James A. Thurber, an American University professor and specialist on ethics and lobbying in Washington. “Is he going to stand outside of the flow as each of them heads to the president? I don’t see that, and if he doesn’t, there will the perception, and maybe the reality, of a conflict of interest.”
While some are reporting that the president and his new COS are not particularly close—at least, not as close as Obama was to Emanuel—Marc Ambinder reports that their relationship is more involved than it first appears.
The consummation of a fairly short courtship belies the deeper relationship Obama has had with Daley, one that stretches back several years to Obama’s first run for Senate, when Daley was a supporter, and then, during the early part of his presidential bid, when Obama relied on Daley as a chief conduit to Midwestern Democratic fundraisers and donors, as well as for advice about hiring campaign staff. The two have remained in touch infrequently, although Daley was regularly in touch with the numerous other White House officials he knew closely, from then-chief of staff Rahm Emanuel to senior advisers David Axelrod and Valerie Jarrett.
So, what about ideology? And what does this mean for the next stage of the White House?
As many are pointing out, the hire fits a pattern emerging in the reshuffle: the president is dipping into the past for experience, and drawing it mostly from Clinton White House vets. Ezra Klein summarized the appointments in a post from yesterday and noted how they have run against the expectations of some.
Obama’s personnel decisions have shown a strong preference for prior government experience. William Daley, who was named chief of staff earlier today, is a former Secretary of Commerce. Jack Lew, who replaced Peter Orszag as head of the Office of Management and Budget, held the same position under President Clinton. Robert Gates, who leads the Defense Department, was a holdover from George W. Bush. Larry Summers, who Sperling is replacing, was Treasury Secretary under Clinton. And the list goes on. Expectations that Obama would begin to turn to people whose primary experience was outside government have not, thus far, been borne out in his staff shakeup.