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White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley was pitched to Capitol Hill as the guy who could cut deals with a resurgent GOP, but it hasn’t turned out that way amid this year’s series of debt crises and gridlock.
The news that Daley had tapped his immediate predecessor, White House counselor and longtime Capitol Hill aide Pete Rouse, to take on a leading operational role at the White House has gotten a mixed reaction on Capitol Hill, ranging from yawns to relief to resignation.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has made known his displeasure with the White House over various slights this year — including a recent interview in Politico in which Daley blamed Democrats and Republicans for blocking the president’s agenda.
When the news broke this week that Daley was scaling back his duties, Reid refused to weigh in, calling the shuffle “none of my business.”
But several senior Democratic aides told Roll Call that they feel Daley had already become marginalized in recent months — with Rouse and other White House aides increasing their contacts on Capitol Hill.
“Rouse has great relationships up here,” said one senior aide, who also praised White House Legislative Affairs Director Rob Nabors, a longtime appropriations staffer, for stepped-up coordination with Senate Democrats. “They get the way the Senate works,” the aide said.
Senate Democrats complained earlier this year that they sometimes felt out of the loop on debt negotiations between the White House and Republicans, and Daley’s stock also sank with the snafu over the scheduling of President Barack Obama’s jobs speech at the same time as a GOP presidential debate, aides said.
Much of Daley’s cachet has come from his relationships with Republicans, particularly with Speaker John Boehner, and the scheduling dispute with the Ohio Republican reinforced his lack of pull, one aide said.
Several Senate Republicans praised Daley in interviews with Roll Call but said his efforts to reach out to the GOP had run into Obama’s need to find someone to blame for the limping economy ahead of the 2012 election.
“The governing model has been replaced by the ‘blame Congress’ model,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said. “A guy like Daley is useless in that enterprise. ... They hired a guy to do A, which was to try find a way to solve problems, which he’s pretty good at, and now they’ve got a political strategy where he’s basically worthless. That’s why. That role no longer exists.”
Graham and other Senate Republicans point to the White House’s lack of involvement in pushing for a deal from the Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction as a sign that it is in full-on campaign mode.
“They are playing zero role in this,” Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said of the White House’s involvement with the super committee. He dismissed the White House shuffle as a “yawner.” Corker said he’s had good conversations with Daley as a fellow former businessman, but he said the White House has become disengaged from the legislative process.
But Corker said he still expects Daley to be the one reaching out to the GOP.
“I’m sure he’ll still be the same guy I call,” he said.
Sen. Lamar Alexander (Tenn.), the No. 3 Republican, said it appears the White House thinks “that Rouse is better able to coordinate with the campaign, and the campaign seems to be calling all the shots, which is unfortunate because we’re at a time where the country and the world needs us to come to a result on debt reduction.”
And Sen. Orrin Hatch (Utah) said that the move is another sign that “the partisans have taken over the White House. Daley is a reasonable human being. He’s somebody you can work with. And there’s a considerable number of people who don’t want that.”
The shift itself is a bit undefined — White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Tuesday that more was being made of the change than was the reality and that the change had been in the works for weeks or months.
Carney said Daley would remain chief of staff and wasn’t giving up his duties, even as Rouse was taking on more. In addition, Daley previously announced he will exit the White House after the election, even if Obama is re-elected.
“It’s about making the White House as effective and efficient as possible. ... And what Bill announced in one of our meetings yesterday morning was simply that, as most of you know or a lot of you know, ‘I’ve asked Pete to take on these additional responsibilities to help us function better.’”
Carney said the change would largely affect internal communication.
Regardless of the particulars of the shuffle, the larger shift in the White House’s dealings with Congress, the Democratic aides said, is a much tougher line against Hill Republicans, which they also interpret as a sign of Daley’s waning influence.
Republicans who are concerned that Daley, their most friendly contact in the White House, is getting marginalized only have themselves to blame, one of the aides said. “They didn’t make any concessions to keep him there. The didn’t meet him halfway on anything.”