Staff Shake-Ups Nearing at the White House

Rahm Emanuel (R), US president-elect Barack Obama's chief of staff designate, and adviser David Axelrod listen to Obama during a press conference in Chicago on December 19, 2008 to introduce his pick of California Rep.
Getty Images/Nicholas Kamm
Twenty months into President Obama's term, the first major staff changes are underway. If past presidencies are any indication other big personnel shuffles are in the pipeline.

They're breaking up the old gang down at the White House. It's that time again - about two years into any president's first term and the staff starts heading for the exits, reports CBS News White House correspondent Bill Plante.

"Two years, people start to leave. They burn themselves out. They work very hard. They have jobs they can't refuse," says the Brookings Institute's Stephen Hess.

Chief of staff Rahm Emanuel may leave as soon as next month to run for mayor of Chicago. The big question: Does the president look inside or outside to replace him?

"Is he just drawing the wagons around him? Or is he reaching out in which he is saying, hey I think there are different ways to do it. Maybe we need a different agenda. Maybe I made some mistakes," says Hess.

Defense secretary Robert Gates and National Security Adviser James Jones are also expected to leave sometime next year. National Economic Council head Larry Summers is going back to Harvard. Other members of the economic team - Peter Orzsag and Christina Romer - are already gone.

Senior adviser David Axelrod says he'll be heading home to Chicago by spring to work on the president's re-election. Axelrod expects David Plouffe, the president's campaign manager, will likely come to Washington as an adviser.

Press secretary Robert Gibbs is also likely to move to advisor status and leave his job on the podium to his deputy Bill Burton.

We've seen this movie before. Bill Clinton changed chiefs of staff four times at different crisis points in his presidency; George W. Bush dumped Donald Rumsfeld from the Pentagon after the 2006 elections.

All presidents have crisis points. Mr. Obama is in one as the November elections approach. The new team he builds will say a lot about the direction he wants to go next year.

  • Bill Plante

    Bill Plante is a CBS News Senior White House Correspondent