Top aide steps aside as Obama squares up for campaign fight

  • @dusborne

A year out from the 2012 presidential election, a nervous White House is discreetly retooling with Bill Daley, the Chief of Staff to the President, relinquishing some of his duties amid rumbles that he has not lived up to the expectations that surrounded his appointment 10 months ago.

The quiet shake-up, which will see Mr Daley hand over responsibility for co-ordinating some internal White House operations to senior political counsellor Peter Rouse, will be seen as a tacit acknowledgement that President Barack Obama wants to be better served by his inner circle as polls show him facing a tough re-election fight.

After Democrats suffered a mauling at the midterm elections last year, Mr Daley, a former Commerce Secretary for President Bill Clinton, was brought in as Chief of Staff with hopes that he would rebuild bridges between Mr Obama and the business community and help the President to find common ground wherever possible with the new Republican majority in the House of Representatives.

The results of the outreach to business have been underwhelming and the relationship between the White House and Republicans on the Hill quickly dissolved into open warfare, especially during the debt-ceiling stand-off of last summer. While no one would place all the blame on him, Mr Daley has increasingly looked like a lead actor cast in the wrong movie.

Mr Rouse, who served as interim Chief of Staff after the departure of Rahm Emanuel, now Mayor of Chicago, and before Mr Daley's appointment is a rumpled, media-averse figure with a reputation for navigating the shoals of Capitol Hill like no other after spending 30 years of his career serving members of the Senate. Some have called him the "101st senator" of the US.

Certainly, the months ahead for the White House look daunting with challenges that range from finalising a deal with Congress further to cut spending and balance the budget to the task of putting Mr Obama back on the road for an election that looks certain to be tight, thanks to poor economic numbers and a sense of popular disgruntlement nationally.

A Wall Street Journal/NBC poll yesterday saw Mr Obama's edge widen slightly over the two current Republican frontrunners, Herman Cain and Mitt Romney, in theoretical match-ups against either one of them next November. More than three quarters of those surveyed thought the economic structure of the US was out of balance and unfairly favoured the very rich, a principle theme of the Occupy Wall Street movement.