Desiree Rogers leaves the Obama White House: Who's next?

Now that White House social secretary Desiree Rogers is leaving, critics say it's time for Obama to shake up the White House even more – starting with the inner core from Chicago.

By , Staff writer

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    White House Social Secretary Desiree Rogers, who has been the focus of attention, and critics, since two uninvited partygoers were able to enter the White House grounds and shake hands with President Barack Obama during a formal state dinner.
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Desiree Rogers wasn't at the upper echelons of Barack Obama's policy team. But as a person well-connected to the president, her departure Friday as White House social secretary adds fuel to a larger question: Is the White House due for a personnel shakeup?

The issue is already a hot topic in Washington, with many pundits saying a staff overhaul is President Obama's best hope to get himself back on track politically.

Obama's outward focus remains on front-burner agenda items such as healthcare policy and job creation.

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But since December, the percentage of the public saying they "disapprove" of the job he's doing has hovered around 50 percent for the first time during his presidency, according to CNN/Opinion Research Corp. polling. Just after his inauguration, public disapproval was only 23 percent.

Obama could be 'reduced to a speechmaker'

"The negative, even dismissive, talk about the Obama White House has reached a critical point," Leslie Gelb, political writer and former New York Times columnist, opined earlier this month. "The president must change key personnel now. Unless he speedily sets up a new team, he will be reduced to a speechmaker."

That dire assessment of the state of Obama's presidency is not held universally. (On most issues, the public gives Obama higher scores than Republicans.) But as Gelb detailed, negative chatter has gotten a lot louder.

With Obama coming in for criticism on everything from his Afghanistan policy to healthcare and the economy – and Obama himself not up for reelection until 2012 – an obvious question is: If there's a shakeup, who should go?

The Chicago crowd

For some political analysts, the answer may connect at least circumstantially to Rogers. Obama's inner circle includes a Chicago-bred core (that's where Obama also got to know Rogers) that Gelb and others say should be largely replaced by people more suited for national political or managerial roles.

Rogers resigned after a tumultuous year in an important role coordinating White House social functions.

She came into the spotlight for changing the tone – a shift toward the White House with the Obamas in residence being more of "the people's house," with guest lists that moved more often beyond the Washington elite. One party, the New York Times noted, ended in a spontaneous conga line.

But Rogers garnered the most media coverage for the "gate crashers" episode, in which fame-seekers Tareq and Michaele Salahi got into a state dinner uninvited. (Monitor report on party crashers here.)

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said that Rogers' departure was not tied to that bad publicity, and that she had not been asked to leave.

It's far from clear that her departure has anything to do with a potential broader shakeup, of course. But at the very least, it may reveal tensions within the administration – tensions that alongside poll numbers may prompt Obama to make some new staffing decisions.

The website Politico reports that disagreements between Rogers and Valerie Jarrett, a close Obama aide from Chicago, have been rising in recent weeks.

On Friday, the president and first lady issued a short statement of gratitude for Rogers' service.

"When she took this position, we asked Desiree to help make sure that the White House truly is the People's House, and she did that by welcoming scores of everyday Americans through its doors, from wounded warriors to local schoolchildren to NASCAR drivers. She organized hundreds of fun and creative events during her time here, and we will miss her," the Obamas said.

It's not just the White House's Chicago crowd – headlined by Obama's chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel – who's facing criticism. (Transcript of Monitor breakfast with Rahm Emanuel here.)

Obama's economic team under fire too

On domestic policy, for example, the economic team of Larry Summers (key adviser) and Tim Geithner (Treasury Secretary) has been under fire. They're burdened by a slow economic recovery, but also by perceptions that they're too close to Wall Street at a time when banks are recovering and the rest of the economy not so much.

There's no guaranty of new faces in top positions. But with Obama pivoting and scrambling on several fronts, no one will be surprised if it happens.

Meanwhile, Fox News reports that the White House has chosen Julianna Smoot, a prominent Democratic Party fundraiser, to replace Desiree Rogers as social secretary:

“Smoot served as national finance director for Obama's presidential campaign, helping raise $32.5 million during one quarter in 2007. She has also served as finance director for then-Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle and John Edwards' successful Senate bid in 1998,” according to Fox. “Heading off expected criticism of the new aide's fundraising background, a senior White House official told Fox News that the social secretary for former President George W. Bush, Lea Berman, also had a fundraising pedigree.”

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