BY Philip Caulfield
DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITER
Robert Gibbs, President Obama's press secretary, will be stepping down from his post after the State of the Union address to become an adviser to the President during his reelection campaign.
Gibbs began informing his White House colleagues today that he will be leaving in order to concentrate on the 2012 election, but has not released an official statement. [Read more about the 2012 presidential election.]
"There are mixed emotions around here," said a source, who suggested some loyal staffers wanted Gibbs to stay on as senior adviser.
"Things will shake out in the next couple of weeks," the source said.
It is not clear who will succeed him, but a new press secretary is likely to be named in the next two weeks, according to The New York Times.
Obama lavished praise on his confidant and longtime press aide. "For the last six years, Robert has been a close friend, one of my closest advisers and an effective advocate from the podium for what this administration has been doing to move America forward," he said in a statement. "I think it's natural for him to want to step back, reflect and retool. That brings up some challenges and opportunities for the White House – but it doesn't change the important role that Robert will continue to play on our team."
Gibbs' departure is the latest of a series of moves inside the West Wing as the President has begun to reorganize his administration in preparation for the reelection campaign. [Read 10 Things You Didn't Know About Gibbs.]
In September, David Axelrod, one of Obama's top advisers, announced he was leaving the White House to work on the campaign.
The President's chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, resigned in October to run for mayor of Chicago.
Pete Rouse, Obama's chief of staff from his days in the Senate, replaced Emanuel on an interim basis, and the President is said to be seriously considering giving the job to William Daley, a former Commerce Secretary and the brother of Chicago's mayor, Richard Daley.
Jim Messina, a deputy chief of staff, is also leaving the White House but is expected to remain in Obama's inner circle, along with Axelrod and Gibbs.
An emboldened Republican majority in the House, including 87 new freshman representatives and six new GOP senators are to be sworn into Congress today. [See who donates the most to your member of Congress.]
Gibbs, 39, had worked for Obama since 2004, when the President was a junior senator from Illinois, and served as communications director during the 2008 presidential election.
The Alabama native maintained an affable and intelligent presence from the podium in the White House press briefing room and in television appearances, where he sparred with reporters and served as a fierce defender of the administration's policies.
He occasionally angered the President's supporters, telling The Hill in an interview in August that Democrats who were comparing Obama to President George Bush "ought to be drug tested" and dismissing liberal critics as the "professional left."
Gibbs later backed off those comments and chalked them up to frustration.
"Stepping back will take some adjusting," Gibbs told The Times on Wednesday. "But at the same time, I have a feeling that I will keep myself quite busy, not just with speaking, but continuing to help the president."
The roster of likely replacements is topped by Bill Burton, Gibbs' top deputy, along with Jay Carney, a spokesman for Vice President Joe Biden.