Not yet two full years into his term, President Obama will bring some new faces to his innermost circle. White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel is said to be considering a bid to be mayor of Chicago. Last week, Lawrence Summers, the director of the National Economic Council, announced that he will return to a tenured teaching post at Harvard University. And his departure follows that of Christina Romer, the former head of the White House Economic Council, and budget director Peter Orszag.
Historically, it is not unusual for some turnover among senior White House advisers and other ranking officials around the midpoint of a president's first term. This year looks to be no different, with Washington rumors ramping up with names of those who may be leaving and candidates to replace them. Emanuel could announce his decision as early as this week. National Security Adviser Gen. James Jones and Pentagon chief Robert Gates have long been rumored to be considering retirement from their respective high-pressure posts. Some further shifts are likely to follow the elections. And, in any event, top political adviser David Axelrod is expected to leave the White House within months to focus full time on the Obama 2012 re-election campaign.
With Summers and Romer out, the president's economic team is going through something of a shake-up amid the greatest—and certainly the longest—economic crisis in the post-war period. Jack Lew, who was President Clinton's budget director, is awaiting Senate confirmation to succeed Orszag. Obama elevated economic council member Austan Goolsbee, a University of Chicago economist, to Romer's former job, and he is reported to be looking further afield for someone, possibly a woman, with real-world business experience to take on the advisory role held by Summers. "I will always be grateful that at a time of great peril for our country, a man of Larry's brilliance, experience, and judgment was willing to answer the call and lead our economic team," Obama said in a statement.
Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said that a replacement for Summers, who is not leaving until the end of the year, will not be named immediately. As for Gibbs, he's been rumored to be on the short list of Emanuel's possible successors.
Summers, the most senior of the financial brains in the White House, had a key role in the major efforts to fix the economy, including the bailout of automakers General Motors and Chrysler, the $814 billion stimulus bill, and the financial regulation reform bill. Summers had said that he wanted to stay for only a year, but the president prevailed on him to remain through passage of the reform legislation.
Summers, at times, drew bipartisan criticism. Liberals decried his reluctance to push for an even larger stimulus package. Republicans, meanwhile, have been far more critical of bailouts and the growing federal deficit. House Minority Leader John Boehner said just last month that the president should fire both Summers and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner. By that, of course, he meant that Obama should repudiate the policy choices that most economists credit with averting a worse economic calamity.