WASHINGTON -- President Obama announced William Daley as his new chief of staff Thursday afternoon, praising the fellow Chicagoan as uniquely suited to guide the White House as it focuses on restoring the nation’s economy.
Daley, the former Commerce secretary under Bill Clinton, will take over from Pete Rouse, who has been serving as interim chief of staff.
In an East Room announcement attended by senior West Wing staff and Cabinet officials, Obama said Daley “possesses a deep understanding of how jobs are created and how to grow our economy.”
“Few Americans can boast the breadth of experience that Bill brings to this job,” the president said.
Daley, son of one Chicago mayor and brother of another, talked about visiting the White House with his family 50 years ago this month, after John F. Kennedy came to the Oval Office.
“You, Mr. President, have proven your strength, your leadership, your vision during a most difficult time for our nation and for the world,” he said. “I am pleased to answer your call.”
Obama also paid tribute to Rouse as he announced Rouse would continue to serve in the administration as a counselor to the president, considered an advancement from his previous position as senior advisor. Rouse has worked with Obama since he took office as Illinois’ U.S. senator in 2005.
“He is a unique and indispensable asset to me, and to this administration. I could not imagine life here without him, and I told him so,” Obama said, following a standing ovation.
The president’s choice of Daley reflects his interest in bringing a fresh voice into his inner circle, according to one senior administration official.
Daley also has management experience in both the political and business settings, and even though the two men are not personally close, Obama trusts his judgment.
Rouse made the recommendation to Obama that he hire Daley for the position, the official said. The official said Rouse had told President Obama this fall that he would serve as interim chief of staff and conduct an assessment of the White House flow chart but that he wanted to leave the administration at the end of those duties.
Rouse’s intent to leave was not widely known within the White House.
Obama talked Rouse into staying and keeping watch over organization and operations of the White House, according to the source, who requested anonymity in order to speak freely about internal personnel matters.
The appointment was met with immediate approval by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, an organization that has often clashed with the White House.
“Bill Daley is a man of stature and extraordinary experience in government, business, trade negotiations and global affairs. He’s an accomplished manager and strong leader,” said Chamber of Commerce Chief Executive Thomas J. Donohue. “We look forward to working with him to accelerate our recovery, grow the economy, create jobs, and tackle America’s global challenges.”
Meanwhile MoveOn.org, a leading liberal organization, highlighted Daley’s ties to “Big Banks and Big Business,” saying his selection “is troubling and sends the wrong message to the American people.”
“If President Obama listens to that kind of political advice from Bill Daley, Democrats will suffer a disastrous 2012,” said Adam Green, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, which recently launched a television ad in Iowa criticizing the president’s compromise on Bush-era tax rates.
The appointment of Daley cements the Chicago presence in the White House and brings to full circle a chain of events set off by Daley’s brother. The position of chief of staff opened up after Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley announced last year that he would not seek reelection. Within weeks, Obama’s chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, was on his way back to Chicago to run for the job.
Julian Zelizer, a Princeton University history professor who specializes in the presidency, said Thursday that it’s common for chief executives to face criticism for encircling themselves with an insular group of advisors from their home states.
“It’s a common attack. When Carter was president, everyone complained about the ‘Georgia mafia.’ When Kennedy was in the White House, it was the ‘Boston mafia,’ ” he said. “There’s always this kind of attack that the president is surrounded by an insular group that doesn’t allow him to see what the rest of America is thinking.”
But he is quick to add that Daley transcends the sharp-elbowed world of Chicago politics in light of his resume, which includes his stint as U.S. Commerce secretary.
“Daley is not just a Chicagoan. He also has experience in Washington, and he’s a veteran political operator. So he brings the best of both worlds.”
Daley’s selection comes amid a broad shuffle of top advisors in the West Wing. On Wednesday, Gibbs announced he would soon step down from his post as the administration’s top spokesman next month. Senior advisor David Axelrod is set to return to Chicago to work on Obama’s reelection campaign.
In addition, a senior White House official confirms that the president will announce Friday his choice of Gene Sperling to replace Lawrence Summers as director of the National Economic Council. Sperling currently serves as a counselor to Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner.
Katherine Skiba and Michael A. Memoli contributed reporting from Washington.