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William Daley: Obama's Bridge to GOP, Business, Democrat base

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WASHINGTON -- When former Commerce Secretary William Daley takes over as fellow Chicagoan President Obama's chief of staff in a few weeks, he brings a resume unique in American politics and government to an administration trying to regain its footing and launch Obama's 2012 re-election campaign.

Daley, 62, the son and brother of Chicago mayors, is taking on an assignment that may well cap his career giving him an opportunity to help Obama repair relations with the business community while at the same time minister to the Democratic liberal wing -- some members not very enthused about his selection. A devoted centrist, Daley will move here from Chicago as Republicans have taken control of the House and strengthened their numbers in the Senate.

Obama announced Daley as his new chief of staff in the East Room of the White House on Thursday, the same place where in October he gave a send-off to former chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, who was quitting to run for Chicago mayor in the wake of Mayor Daley's decision not to seek another term. The audience included Vice President Biden, several cabinet members and the two Chicagoans who have played a major role in Obama's stunning trajectory that took him in a matter of years from the Illinois Senate to the White House: Senior advisers David Axelrod and Valerie Jarrett.

Both Axelrod and Jarrett have known Daley for years -- way before either of them ever met Obama, who, arriving in Chicago in the 1990s was a relative newcomer on the scene. Daley himself has never been particularly close to Obama or part of his inner circle -- what they have in common is a strong connection to Axelrod, who served as a strategist for both Obama and Mayor Daley.

Neither as brash as Emanuel -- Daley's onetime protege -- but just as capable of being blunt -- White House officials told me Daley was hired on because of his experience in the three worlds he has straddled: politics, government and especially his business ties.

Obama summed it up in his remarks: "Few Americans can boast the breadth of experience that Bill brings to this job. He served as a member of President Clinton's Cabinet, as Commerce secretary . . . He's led major corporations. He possesses a deep understanding of how jobs are created and how to grow our economy. And, needless to say, Bill also has a smidgen of awareness of how our system of government and politics works. You might say it is a genetic trait."

Daley returns to the White House from the banking world, the Midwest chief for J.P. Morgan Chase since 2004, before that president of SBC. He's also run Chicago's Amalgamated Bank and as a partner at the law firm of Mayer Brown, handled government relations, with his close relationship to the late Rep. Dan Rostenkowski very helpful. Obama White House policy will call for Daley to recuse himself from any J.P. Morgan matter for two years.

One of Daley's major accomplishments was as "NAFTA Czar," winning congressional approval for then-President Clinton of the North American Free Trade Agreement -- with a big assist from Emanuel. Clinton named Daley to the Fannie Mae board and in his second term made Daley his Commerce secretary, where Daley performed for the first time on a global stage.

Vice President Gore drafted Daley to take over his troubled 2000 presidential bid. By that time Daley had advised the 1988 Biden presidential campaign and Vice President Mondale's 1984 bid.

Daley is expected to be a pragmatic manager. He's already been public about his disagreement with Obama over taking on health care reform. The practical Daley will have to convince Obama's liberal base -- which needs to be fired up for the 2012 contest -- that he will be an honest broker.

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Lynn Sweet

Lynn Sweet is a columnist and the Washington Bureau Chief for the Chicago Sun-Times.

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This page contains a single entry by Lynn Sweet published on January 7, 2011 8:30 AM.

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