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Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Why the Daley Resignation Is Significant

Three years ago, when President-Elect Obama was appointing his new administration, I noticed a curious absence from the list of people he was nominating to his cabinet and other high-ranking officials: William Daley.

The son and brother of former Chicago mayors had a résumé that made him as suited for a powerful position in a Democratic administration as anybody. He was Secretary of Commerce from 1997 to 2000, when he resigned to chair Al Gore’s presidential campaign. (He had previously chaired Bill Clinton' 1992 presidential campaign in Illinois.) He even co-chaired the president-elect’s transition team!

Of course, he also ran a couple of Fortune 500 companies, namely SBC Communications and JPMorgan Chase & Co. You would think this would be another asset for a prospective cabinet-level appointment, especially in an administration tasked with getting a flailing economy back on track, but having just won an election lambasting ... well, a lot of things. He was kind of all over the map. Let’s just say capitalism in general, Obama may have been weary about someone who seemed to exemplify the Wall St.-Washington liaison that he had disingenuously but convincingly decried in 2008.

In October, Daley told the press that he planned “to put the president through his re-election” and then return to Chicago, so it came as a surprise to many (including me) when the administration announced that Daley was stepping down as Chief of Staff this month. Suprising, that is, if you didn’t know about what happened last November (which I didn’t).

About two months ago, Daley is handed off “some of the day-to-day management” duties at the White House to Peter Rouse, a longtime Democratic hand in Washington who had served as interim Chief of Staff between the time Rahm Emanuel left in October 2010 to run for mayor of Chicago and Daley taking office the following January. According to Will Rahn at the Daily Caller:

Congressional Democrats had criticized Daley, a former commerce secretary under President Clinton, for what some described as his imperfect understanding of the legislative branch, and his tense relationship with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. This stood in marked contrast to his predecessor, Rahm Emanuel, a former Democratic congressman who is now Mayor of Chicago.
“Rahm Emanuel was not only a creature of the House, he knew many of the senators,” Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin
told The Huffington Post in September. “Bill Daley does not have that depth of relationship coming in.”
One senior Democratic aide was more blunt, saying that the party’s congressional leadership had “basically come to the conclusion that he’s not up to the job and doesn’t really get how Congress works. At all.”

Apparently, Daley’s pragmatic mindset had no place in an administration that has made a firm policy of deferring to congressional Democrats, who as we all know are led by a cadre of rabid ideologues.

The most important thing to recognize when processing the news of Daley’s departure is this: the last time an incumbent president replaced his chief of staff in an election year was in 1992, when Pres. George Bush swapped Samuel K. Skinner for Jim Baker. For all the presidents Obama has compared himself to, we don’t think the fate of George Bush’s '92 reelection is one he wishes to emulate.

Last month, I blogged about the premature excitement over Obama’s approval numbers. A new rash of polls out this week show him sinking yet again, and the gap between his approval and disapproval ratings has widened. Gallup pegs his job approval at 43%, while Rasmussen Reports has it at 46%. A Reuters/Ipsos survey gives the president a 47% approval rating, and CBS News says he’s at 45%. In all four polls, more respondents disapproved of the president’s performance than approved.

Obama’s in trouble. Swapping out his Chief of Staff won’t save him. If the Republicans get their act together, then we can swap out our president for one who will know what he’s doing and who actually cares about middle-class Americans.

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