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William Daley: Obama signals shift to center with pick for chief of staff

Obama brings aboard William Daley, a moderate Democrat and fellow Chicagoan, as his new chief of staff. Daley, seen as a tough but fair manager, could help White House ties to the business community.

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Now two years in, the Obama administration is at a natural moment for personnel changes. But the November election results – handing Republicans control of the House amid marked public dissatisfaction with the Democrats – have added an imperative for reexamination of both policies and politics. Obama has said he hopes to move forward with the kind of bipartisanship that marked the productive lame-duck session of Congress, and Daley will be a key player in shaping that new approach. Expect to see Daley regularly on television as a surrogate for Obama.

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The White House chief of staff, which does not require congressional confirmation, is one of the most influential posts in government, perhaps topped only by the president. All policy matters run through the chief of staff, who makes many decisions on the president’s behalf.

Style: Tough but fair

By all accounts, Daley is a good manager, with a different style from Mr. Emanuel’s.

“He is direct, and he can be very tough ... but he’s very friendly and fair,” says Matt Bennett, vice president for public affairs at Third Way, a moderate Democratic think tank on whose board Daley serves. “He’s nothing like Rahm, who I know very well. He doesn’t get all worked up and yell and scream.”

Mr. Bennett maintains that Daley’s policy differences with the Obama administration have now become irrelevant. Daley will do the president’s bidding, just as Vice President Joe Biden fell in line on Afghanistan, despite his reported lack of enthusiasm for the expanded US presence there. But liberals might still be concerned to know that Daley opposed Obama’s sweeping health-care reform and creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a biproduct of financial regulatory reform. Daley was calling for a tack to the center long before last November’s midterms.

“All that is required for the Democratic Party to recover its political footing is to acknowledge that the agenda of the party's most liberal supporters has not won the support of a majority of Americans – and, based on that recognition, to steer a more moderate course on the key issues of the day, from health care to the economy to the environment to Afghanistan,” Daley wrote in the Washington Post on Dec. 24, 2009.

Bennett does expect Daley, whom he knew from Daley’s days managing Vice President Al Gore’s presidential campaign in 2000, to help set a policy course focused on economic growth.

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