ROBERT GIBBS TO STEP DOWN AS PRESS SECRETARY…. There have been rumors that the White House staff shake-up might include bringing in a new press secretary, and the scuttlebutt was accurate. Robert Gibbs is stepping down after two years on the job, and will transition to a new role, advising the president from outside the White House and preparing for the 2012 campaign.

Mr. Gibbs said that he intends to leave the podium in early February. His successor has not yet been decided, he said, but will likely be announced within the next two weeks.

President Obama, who is in the midst of making final decisions on the first major reorganization of his administration, said in a brief telephone interview on Wednesday that Mr. Gibbs would remain a close adviser and “will continue to shape the dialogue politically for many years to come.”

“We’ve been on this ride together since I won my Senate primary in 2004,” Mr. Obama said. “He’s had a six-year stretch now where basically he’s been going 24/7 with relatively modest pay. I think it’s natural for someone like Robert to want to step back for a second to reflect, retool and that, as a consequence, brings about both challenges and opportunities for the White House.”

The “professional left” unpleasantness notwithstanding, I’ve never had especially strong feelings about Gibbs’ work. My sense is the White House press corps never really liked Gibbs — which in turn led me to like him a little more — but I tended to like his work during the ’08 campaign, and appreciated his willingness to use new media as part of the West Wing’s communications apparatus.

Either way, it’s a grueling job and it makes sense to bring in a fresh voice during a time of transition for the White House.

As for his replacement, much of the talk this week has focused on Bill Burton, a Gibbs deputy, and Jay Carney, Vice President Biden’s press secretary, and a former reporter for Time.

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Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.