It wasn't exactly a shocker. Lawrence Summers, a key architect of President Obama's economic policies and a former secretary of the Treasury, announced today that he will leave his position as director of the president's National Economic Council by the end of the year and return to Harvard University, where he had a controversial reign as president.
Here's what's important: The departure is almost certain to mean that the NEC will be headed by a less cantankerous figure -- one who'll serve as an honest broker between competing advisers. Summers is widely considered a brilliant economist, but he is anything but disinterested.
His departure, coming so soon after the replacement of Christina Romer as chair of the Council of Economic Advisers, guarantees that the president will head into the second half of his term with a very different economic team than the one that designed his current policies. Only Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner remains in place from the original top advisers.
"Over the past two years, [Summers] has helped guide us from the depths of the worst recession since the 1930s to renewed growth," said the president in a statement in which he described himself as "grateful" to Summers.
He added, "While we have much work ahead to repair the damage done by the recession, we are on a better path thanks in no small measure to Larry's wise counsel." He also promised to continue to seek Summers' advice and will keep him as a member of his economic advisory board.
In a statement, Summers said, "I will miss working with the president and his team on the daily challenges of economic policy making." But he said he was looking forward to once more being a professor.
Four possible successors already serve in the administration. One is Michael Froman, deputy national security adviser for international economic affairs, but he worked at Citigroup during the economic meltdown. Jared Bernstein is chief economic policy adviser to Vice President Joe Biden; he's considered a liberal voice. Two other candidates might be less controversial: Cecilia Rouse, on leave from Princeton as a member of Council of Economic Advisors, and Jason Furman, deputy director of the National Economic Council and a former fellow at the Brookings Institution.
There are also some at the White House eager to find a replacement in the corporate world to help rebut the criticism that Obama is hostile to business. No matter who takes Summers' chair, they're unlikely to be as large a figure.