The appointment of
The decision is not risk-free. Bringing in an outsider at such a high level could complicate lines of authority in the administration. Podesta has previously served as a boss and mentor to Chief of Staff
"There is time to retrieve a strong legacy for the president and his administration," said
"To do that, they've got to get back on track with the issues that would make up that legacy," he added. "They need someone who can guide them through these rough waters, as John obviously did at one of the most difficult of times."
Beyond the internal dynamics of the White House, the decision to bring in Podesta as counselor has clear implications for the president's policies.
Since Obama's first term, Podesta has criticized the White House for focusing too heavily on legislation — often with little return — and not paying enough attention to the ability of the president and his Cabinet officials to change policy through executive action. Obama has already appeared to be moving to make greater use of his executive powers, but Podesta's arrival could accelerate that shift.
A key arena for that approach is likely to be climate change. Podesta has strongly backed action to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases blamed for global warming. He has also expressed considerable skepticism about the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, which is designed to carry oil extracted from Canada's tar sands to refineries along the Gulf Coast. His appointment drew cheers from environmental activists who have fretted over Obama's ambivalent statements on the pipeline's future.
Late Tuesday, White House officials said Podesta would recuse himself from the Keystone issue because of his involvement in outside activities opposing the pipeline.
Tom Steyer, the billionaire former hedge fund manager from California who has been a leading campaigner against the pipeline, has worked with Podesta on climate issues and called him "an outstanding advocate for our environment" who has "championed clean energy solutions."
Officials familiar with the decision say McDonough asked Podesta to take on the role of guiding implementation of the Affordable Care Act. Podesta's agreement with McDonough is that he'll stay for a year, starting about the end of December, White House Press Secretary
Carney said Podesta would work on a range of issues besides healthcare, including climate change, economic growth and "executive actions, where necessary when we can't get cooperation out of Congress."
Podesta's appointment comes as the White House enjoys its first sustained period of relatively good news after weeks of battering. The HealthCare.gov website has functioned reasonably well since an emergency team of tech experts overhauled it in November. A preliminary deal to restrain
The latest polling indicates that Obama's sharp slide in the public's eyes may have stopped. A Pew Research Center poll released Tuesday showed his job approval rating ticking upward after months of steady decline.
Comparisons to the Clinton era have appeared often lately amid Obama's difficulties. For Clinton, the economic prosperity of the 1990s ultimately was enough to overshadow a multitude of problems.
White House officials hope the same will happen for Obama, if unemployment continues to drop and the health insurance marketplaces become more popular. In that hopeful scenario for Democrats, Podesta could help Obama manage a turnaround robust enough to help imperiled Senate Democrats win reelection.
Other Republicans question whether one steady hand can right the ship. Personnel changes at this point are like "shifting the chairs around on the Titanic," said Senate Republican leader
Podesta, 64, a wiry, plain-spoken Chicago native, has an expansive policy background and a long-held belief that Democrats can manage government in a way that advances progressive ideals.
Unlike most in the president's inner circle, Podesta has a national stature that is not tied to Obama. In addition to his role as White House chief of staff, he is a former National Security Council member and founder of the Center for American Progress, an influential liberal policy research and advocacy group.
Podesta doesn't mince words in his advocacy, even to spare the president whose election he supported. As the administration neared a deal to avert the "
During the Clinton years, when officials emphasized the importance of memos by marking them "top secret," he would scrawl the word "embarrassing" on the top in green marker, recalled a former colleague.
"John is an extremely straight shooter," said Neera Tanden, president of the center Podesta founded and a former Obama administration official. "It's a good thing for the president to expand his circle to include someone like him, who is going to be honest and frank."
White House aides downplayed the possibility of tension with McDonough, saying he had advocated hiring Podesta, who had brought him on as a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and had unofficially advised him during his years at the White House.
His addition to the staff also adds a senior presence to the White House at a time when Obama is anticipating the departure of longtime advisor
Also this week, McDonough recruited Phil Schiliro, the White House's former top liaison to Congress, to return to Washington. Schiliro, a longtime aide to Rep.