Robert L. Gibbs, the feisty press secretary whose job as President Obama's chief spokesman and confidant has given him an outsized presence at the White House, announced Wednesday he was quitting for the less demanding, more lucrative role of giving paid speeches and advising the president from the outside world.
A top candidate to succeed Gibbs is Bill Burton, a 1995 City Honors School graduate who grew up in North Buffalo.
Burton has served as Obama's deputy press secretary for two years. He previously was national press secretary for the Obama presidential campaign.
The affable Burton is well-liked by the White House press corps, but two others -- Josh Earnest, another Gibbs deputy, and Jay Carney, Vice President Biden's spokesman -- are also thought to be contenders for Gibbs' job.
In a rapidly unfolding makeover, Obama was also nearing a decision on whether to choose William M. Daley, a former commerce secretary, for the vital gatekeeping job of White House chief of staff. Obama and Daley met at the White House on Wednesday, and a presidential decision on that position is expected within days.
Obama is resetting his presidency as core members of his team head for the door, with senior adviser David Axelrod soon to follow and with uncertainty looming over who will permanently replace Rahm Emanuel, another defining figure who quit as White House chief of staff three months ago to run for mayor of Chicago.
Obama aides are promising stability, particularly as former campaign manager David Plouffe joins the senior staff Monday, but even Gibbs acknowledged that what's happening is a "pretty major retooling."
"It's a good time to get some fresh voices, including somebody up here," Gibbs said from his familiar perch behind the lectern in the White House briefing room.
The crowd for his question-and-answer session with reporters was bigger than normal Wednesday; the news media and members of Gibbs' staff packed the room after word got out about his decision to leave. Otherwise, it was a classic Gibbs briefing: a bit late in starting and then filled with winding answers, stern defenses of the president's policies and wisecracks with his questioners.
Obama is now deciding whether to stick with the respected, below-the-radar Peter M. Rouse as chief of staff or bring in Daley, a banking executive who's more comfortable in front of the cameras. That decision appears largely to be a matter of whether Rouse, the interim chief, wants to stay on for two more years.
A combination of internal fatigue and a demand to shift people to the 2012 re-election effort is fueling the personnel changes. Obama is expected on Friday to name a new top economic adviser, likely to be Treasury Department official Gene Sperling. And no matter who serves as chief of staff, both deputy chiefs of staff, Jim Messina and Mona Sutphen, are expected to leave soon.
A departure by early February is expected for Gibbs, who has been at Obama's side since 2004, when Obama had not yet become a senator from Illinois.
Gibbs will remain a part of Obama's inner circle, setting up shop near the White House in the same office that Plouffe, himself an outside counselor to Obama, will be vacating. Gibbs is also expected to be a paid consultant to Obama's re-election campaign.
Axelrod, too, will remain a top adviser to Obama when he leaves the White House in a few weeks to anchor the re-election campaign from Chicago.
News Washington Bureau Chief Jerry Zremski contributed to this report.