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US President Barack Obama (R) listens after announcing William Daley (R) as his new chief of staff in the East Room at the White House in Washington, DC, on January 6, 2011. Obama chose former commerce secretary William Daley as his new chief of staff on January 6, bringing a renowned powerbroker on the wavelength of Wall Street into his retooled administration. Obama has embarked on a reshuffle of his White House braintrust as he faces fresh challenges from Republicans who this week formally took over the House of Representatives following their mid-term election triumph in November. (Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images/Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Barack Obama (R) listens after announcing William Daley (R) as his new chief of staff in the East Room at the White House in Washington, DC, on January 6, 2011. Obama chose former commerce secretary William Daley as his new chief of staff on January 6, bringing a renowned powerbroker on the wavelength of Wall Street into his retooled administration. Obama has embarked on a reshuffle of his White House braintrust as he faces fresh challenges from Republicans who this week formally took over the House of Representatives following their mid-term election triumph in November. (Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images/Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images)

Obama's appointment of Daley signals a more centrist approach Add to ...

It would be hard to find a more consummate Chicago powerbroker to succeed Rahm Emanuel as Barack Obama's chief of staff, but the President has done so in wooing one of Windy City's dynastic Daleys to take the job.

The appointment of William Daley as Mr. Obama's gatekeeper and holder of the most important White House job outside the Oval Office pretty much completes the President's transition from South Side community organizer to quintessential Chicago Democrat as he posits a pro-business path to re-election.

The West Wing arrival of Mr. Daley, former U.S. commerce secretary and son and brother of all-powerful Chicago mayors, intensifies Mr. Obama's reliance on veterans of Bill Clinton's administration to navigate the choppy waters of divided government as Republicans assume control of the House of Representatives. Mr. Clinton also faced a GOP House and ultimately used it to his advantage.

The ascendance of key Clintonites is likely to become even more pronounced on Friday when Mr. Obama is expected to name Gene Sperling as director of the National Economic Council, making him the President's top economic policy adviser. He performed the same task for Mr. Clinton.

In November, meanwhile, Jacob Lew was confirmed as Mr. Obama's budget director, heading up the pivotal Office of Management and Budget. He also held that job in the Clinton administration.

With three top White House policy jobs falling to officials from the last Democratic administration "it says that the President fully recognizes that the most successful economy we've had since the 1960s was under Bill Clinton," Robert Shapiro, who was Mr. Daley's undersecretary of commerce, said in an interview. "He had an unusually talented group of economic advisers and policy practitioners."

Mr. Daley, 62, first served Mr. Clinton as a special counsel and was responsible for shepherding the North American Free Trade Agreement through Congress in 1993 over the opposition of organized labour, a key Democratic constituency. Though he became infamous for fainting at a presidential press conference in 1996, he is anything but a pushover.

After serving as commerce secretary between 1997 and 2000, he ran Al Gore's presidential campaign before moving to a lucrative corporate career. He spent the past six years at JP Morgan Chase, running the Midwestern operations of the second biggest U.S. bank.

Mr. Daley's appointment - not to mention his hearty endorsement for the chief of staff position by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, until now a leading Obama antagonist - drew immediate dismissals from left-leaning liberal Democrats and progressive groups. But his nomination suggests Mr. Obama has clearly decided on which side his political bread is buttered.

The President, who alienated business leaders with his repeated attacks on "irresponsible" Wall Street bankers and pursuance of "big government" economic policies, has made rebuilding bridges to the business community a top priority. Getting American companies to spend some of the nearly $2-trillion (U.S.) in cash they are hoarding is seen as key to spurring growth and reducing the nearly 10 per cent unemployment rate.

Mr. Daley is considered uncommonly skilled at political deal making. Mr. Obama will rely on him not only to move his recently concluded free trade agreement with South Korea through Congress, but perhaps to create an alliance with Republicans to pursue more trade liberalization across the board. Mr. Obama's aim to double U.S. exports by 2015 is a key plank in his plan to revive American manufacturing.

"I think we will see greater emphasis on trade in the next year because it's an area of potential agreement with Republicans," offered Mr. Shapiro, now chairman of Sonecon LLC, a Washington-based economic advisory firm. "Bill Daley not only knows Democrats, but Republicans all over town. He can talk to all of them and I don't know anybody who doesn't trust him."

Mr. Daley had openly criticized the Obama administration for plunging headfirst into wholesale policy upheavals, notably on health care and climate change. In a Washington Post op-ed article a year ago, he advocated a "more moderate course on key issues of the day."

Mr. Obama not only appears to have taken heed; he has seconded Mr. Daley to plot that course.

At the same time, the President is replacing Mr. Emanuel - who stepped down to run for the job Mr. Daley's brother is vacating as mayor of Chicago - with another Chicago heavyweight.

His most senior political adviser remains Valerie Jarrett - who was deputy chief of staff to Mayor Richard M. Daley, William Daley's brother - and hired Michelle Obama for a job in the mayor's office in 1991.

It was David Axelrod, another White House senior adviser who is returning to Chicago to run Mr. Obama's re-election campaign, who recommended Mr. Daley for the chief of staff position.

In introducing him to White House staff on Thursday, Mr. Obama called Mr. Daley "an experienced public servant, a devoted patriot, my friend and fellow Chicagoan."

No doubt he uttered that list in reverse order of importance.

Follow on Twitter: @konradyakabuski

 

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