Whenever a president gets into political trouble, it's often the White House chief of staff who takes the hits, and that appears to be happening to William Daley now.
In a move widely interpreted as a quasi-demotion, Daley announced to the White House staff yesterday that he is assigning a senior aide, Pete Rouse, to take over a number of day-to-day managerial tasks in running the West Wing. Rouse will now coordinate the activities of White House advisers and other officials to give Daley more time to court leaders of business, finance, Congress, and journalism. In other words, Rouse will be the insider and Daley will play more of a public role. Rouse had been interim chief of staff for a few months after the resignation of Rahm Emanual to run for Chicago mayor last year. He is well respected and liked around the White House. It's Daley's role that is in question.
Many veterans of past administrations and Capitol Hill have been down on Daley for months. He has been widely criticized for being almost invisible as chief of staff, for failing to reach out to both friends and adversaries, and for not appearing prominently in the media, especially on television, to promote and defend his boss.
"He doesn't seem to understand who he should get to know, who and what can be most helpful to the president's agenda," says a former adviser to a Republican president. This is surprising because Daley is a veteran both of Washington as a former commerce secretary under President Bill Clinton and as a player in the business world as a former executive with JPMorgan Chase.
For the record, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters today that Daley "retains responsibility" as chief of staff, one of the most powerful positions in government, and added: "A little bit more is being made of this than is in fact happening."
But Daley has experienced difficult relations with some influential people on Capitol Hill, including Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada who has apparently disagreed with Daley on how to handle budget negotiations with Republicans. Daley hasn't cultivated many members of the Washiington media establishment, including the White House press corps. And liberals say he is too close to business.
Daley's current travails parallel those of some of his predecessors. Among those who lost the chief of staff job because they fell out with key people in Washington or were blamed at least in part for their presidents' woes were Donald Regan for Ronald Reagan; John Sununu for George H.W. Bush; Sam Skinner, also for Bush, and Mack McLarty for Clinton.