Updated at 8:34 a.m. on January 4.
William M. Daley, the former Commerce secretary and early adviser to President Obama's campaign, has emerged as a serious contender to become Obama's next chief of staff, a White House official said Monday. The official said that Obama spoke twice with Daley in December: once on the telephone and once during a face-to-face meeting that went unnoticed.
The White House was at first reluctant to confirm the news that Obama was considering Daley after it was first reported by Bloomberg. But later, one official who initially declined to speculate about personnel matters said that staffers have been told that Daley is among several potential candidates for the job. Pete Rouse, the current chief of staff, has made it clear that he does not want the job for too much longer, although he intends to stay if Obama so decides.
The official said that a small team supervised by Rouse was vetting several candidates for the job. Daley, who spends his days in a picturesque corner office in downtown Chicago as J.P. Morgan's Midwest chair, is close to several members of Obama's inner circle, including his former chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, who departed the job to run for the mayoralty vacated by Daley's brother Richard.
Daley was Commerce secretary from 1997 to 2000 and served as chairman of Al Gore's presidential campaign. Daley was shortlisted for several Cabinet posts in the administration but asked not to serve initially. He has served informally as a liaison between Obama and the Midwestern financial elite, who, despite having backed Obama's candidacy with an unusual fervor, grew anxious when his administration cracked down on financial speculation.
It is not clear what strengths Obama believes Daley would bring to the job aside from his connections to Democrats and Wall Street and his general knowledge of Washington. One downside would be the perception that Obama remains stubbornly cocooned and comfortable only with a small coterie of longtime loyalists with Chicago connections. A Democrat who has been briefed by the White House said that Obama believes that he will exercise his power most effectively during the second half of his first term by building better relationships with American businesses, and concedes that few of his advisers currently draw respect from that community, so in that respect, Daley would be a plus.
"It's going to all about jobs these next two years, and he's not going to get anything done in Congress, so the best thing we can do for the economy is to get business to hire," was how the Democrat characterized the president's thinking. This Democrat spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to share candid thoughts without losing access. "He's also a straight shooter," the Democrat said of Daley. Daley's management style might be a mix between Emanuel's shark mentality and Rouse's avuncular informality. Daley, rarely seen without a red or blue tie and dark suit, is known for his formality and attention to detail, according to people who know him.
George E. Condon Jr. contributed