White House staff takes shape

WHITE HOUSE STAFF TAKES SHAPE…. We may not learn about Obama’s cabinet choices until after Thanksgiving, but in the interim, the White House staff is clearly taking shape.

Up until a few days ago, the list was fairly brief: Rahm Emanuel will be chief of staff, Robert Gibbs will be press secretary, and David Axelrod will be a senior advisor to the president. Yesterday, the Obama/Biden team formally added two more members: Ron Klain will become Vice President Joe Biden’s chief of staff, while Valerie Jarrett will serve as Senior Advisor and Assistant to the President for Intergovernmental Relations and Public Liaison. (As Karen Tumulty noted, Jarrett’s title suggests a “very broad troubleshooting portfolio.”)

We’ve since learned of a few other officials in key White House posts. Phil Schiliro, a long-time aide to Henry Waxman and Tom Daschle, will be Assistant to the President for Legislative Affairs. Peter Rouse, a long-time aide to Daschle and Dick Durbin, will be a senior advisor to the President. Mona Sutphen, a U.S. foreign service officer and member of Bill Clinton’s National Security Council, will be a deputy chief of staff. And Jim Messina, a former aide to Sens. Max Baucus and Byron Dorgan, will also be a deputy chief of staff.

Ezra made an important point about what most of these people have in common.

One of the themes I’ve been trying to push lately is that the success of Obama’s presidency is dependent on his ability to navigate an increasingly dysfunctional Congress, and that the ability to pass bills through the institution requires pretty fair knowledge of how it works and pretty good relationships with the key players. Clinton didn’t have that. He entered office and showed very little respect for congressional expertise, surrounding himself with trusted associates from Arkansas and young hotshots from his campaign.

Obama is not making the same mistake. He’s surrounded himself with Gephardt and Daschle advisers, elevated Rahm Emanuel to chief of staff, and just named Phil Schiliro to be the administration’s point person on legislative affairs. Schirilo was previously Henry Waxman’s chief of staff, and as Marc Ambinder says, was “known as one of the savviest, smartest chiefs of staffs in DC.” He also served as policy director to Tom Daschle, which only furthers the odd rebirth of the Daschle team within the Obama administration.

And Schirilo’s Hill expertise is rivaled by that of Rouse, Messina, and, of course, that Emanuel guy.

I don’t doubt that there will be some who argue that this team does not reflect enough “change.” They’re a group of highly-competent professionals who bring extensive experience in policy making and the political process, but they’re “insiders” who’ve worked for powerhouse Democrats like Clinton, Daschle, and Gephardt.

I’m afraid I’m unsympathetic to these concerns. “Change” will come in the form of policy, and Obama is in the process of assembling a team that will help him deliver on a “change” agenda. As far I can tell, that’s a good thing.