In picking Daley, Obama edges out of his comfort zone

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Signaling a desire to steer the West Wing in a new direction, President Obama announced today that he's tapped former Commerce Secretary Bill Daley as his next chief of staff.

News of the move brought instant praise from the business community, which has had a shaky relationship with the White House over the last two years. But it's likely to further inflame tensions between Obama and liberal Democrats, who aren't fans of Daley's ties to Wall Street or his centrist political leanings.

Speaking in the East Room of the White House, Obama praised Daley as "an experienced public servant, a devoted patriot," and a friend.

"Few Americans can boast the breadth of experience that Bill brings to this job," Obama said. "He will bring his tremendous experience, his strong values and forward-looking vision to this White House."

In picking Daley, Obama is going outside of his comfort zone — albeit only slightly. Daley, a 62-year-old executive at JPMorgan with decades of experience in Washington, is not personally close to the president. Yet he's a firmly established fixture in Chicago's political orbit — the son of the late Chicago Mayor Richard J., and brother of the present mayor, Richard M., Daley. He's also long been friendly with many of the president's closest friends and advisers, including David Axelrod and Valerie Jarrett.

Yet Daley's hiring will likely have its biggest impact on the shifting politics of the West Wing. A political moderate, Daley has publicly argued that Democrats need to move more toward the governing middle. It's a message that, if heeded by the president, could help him win back support among independents and moderate Republicans ahead of what's shaping up to be a grueling 2012 re-election campaign.

In the aftermath of the 2010 midterms, Obama has repeatedly said one of the lessons he's taken away was a need to find areas to compromise with the GOP-controlled House. The Daley hiring is surely a nod to that effort — at least on the surface. The former Commerce secretary is likely to be viewed more favorably by the GOP and conservative Democrats, with whom he's worked on pro-business initiatives over the years, than his predecessor, Rahm Emanuel, who was often criticized for his abrasive style. "I see it as a hopeful sign," Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell told reporters today.

Already, the Daley pick has won praise from one high-profile Obama foe during the 2010 campaign: the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which previously worked with Daley on financial deregulation efforts. Tom Donohue, the chamber's president, called Daley a "accomplished manager and a strong leader." "This is a strong appointment," he said.

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Yet the Daley hire could hurt Obama among the Democratic left, many of whom have already aired their anger with the White House's feints toward the political middle ahead of 2012. As The Ticket previously reported, Daley has clashed repeatedly with liberals for years, dating back to his days as President Clinton's chief liaison on pushing through the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). The former Commerce secretary also opposed this year's health-care overhaul on the grounds that it tacked too far to the left for most Americans.

So far, there has been muted response from labor unions, including the AFL-CIO, whose former president once labeled Daley "squarely on the opposite side of working families." In a statement today that did not mention Daley's name, current AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka said that it's ultimately Obama's choice on who he hires as chief of staff. But, he added, Obama and his administration will "ultimately be judged by results."

But Adam Green, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, slammed the Daley appointment, calling it a "real mistake." "Bill Daley consistently urges the Democratic Party to pursue a corporate agenda that alienates both Independent and Democratic voters," Green said in a statement. "If President Obama listens to that kind of political advice from Bill Daley, Democrats will suffer a disastrous 2012."

Yet Obama made no reference to the political fallout in announcing Daley. Praising Daley as a "fellow Chicagoan," the president said he was confident that Daley would, among other things, bring a "deep understanding of how jobs are created and how to grow our economy." "I know Bill to be somebody who cares deeply about this country," Obama said.

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The announcement marks the latest in a series of high-profile staff moves at the White House as Obama reaches his two-year mark in office. Daley replaces Pete Rouse, a longtime Obama aide who had been serving as interim chief of staff since Emanuel's departure in October. Obama announced that he had convinced Rouse to commit to "one last tour of duty." He will serve as counselor to the president.

Earlier this week, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs announced he will leave in early February to become an outside adviser to Obama's re-election campaign. Axelrod is leaving the West Wing later this month to oversee the campaign. He'll be replaced by Obama 2008 campaign chief David Plouffe, who officially joins the White House Monday.

(Photo of Daley and Obama: J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

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