West Wing braces for staff exodus

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A number of key aides are expected to leave the White House in the coming months as President Obama tries to build momentum after a tumultuous 2013 that left him with few significant achievements.

Departures of longtime and trusted West Wing aides will force Obama to go outside his comfort zone in seeking advisers.

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Strategists say that could be a struggle for the president, who they say has not done well in reaching outside his bubble for help and advice.

It will be critical in 2014 for the president, who is focused on making sure his party does not lose its majority in the Senate.

The biggest boldface name expected to leave Obama is deputy chief of staff Rob Nabors, a key adviser on nearly every major negotiation the White House has had with Congress. Reuters reported late last month that Nabors was “considering” leaving the West Wing, but it seems more certain and imminent than that, say sources who have spoken to the top White House aide in recent weeks.

Nabors, who has recently taken some time off to deal with personal matters, is expected to depart the White House in the next several months.

Deputy chief of staff Alyssa Mastromonaco, a nine-year Obama veteran, is also mulling a departure. But sources familiar with her thinking say she hasn’t made any decisions about leaving the West Wing yet.  

The two exits would deprive Obama of two of his closest advisers, said one former senior administration official.

“I think the president really respects him,” the official said of Nabors, “and you see that in the amount of access and input he has, from foreign policy to domestic policy and everything in-between.”

“And Alyssa really knows what makes the president tick,” the official said. “More than any two people, both Alyssa and Rob demonstrate Obama’s loyalty to his personal relationships.”

“He’s comfortable around them.”

There are other departures, too, particularly in the Legislative Affairs Office, which recently lost its director, Miguel Rodriguez. Sources say officials Ed Pagano and Jonathan Samuels, who head up the House and Senate teams, respectively, have also been thinking about possible departures this year. 

The White House looked outside the Legislative Affairs Office to pick a successor to Rodriguez, and selected Katie Beirne Fallon, a newcomer to Obama’s orbit who served as deputy communications director at the White House.

Beirne Fallon’s old role hasn’t yet been filled, but White House aides are looking both inside — deputy press secretary Amy Brundage is one name floating around — and outside for the right candidate.

White House allies say other mid-level departures could come in the weeks ahead. But they say not to expect much change at the senior adviser level, which could get top-heavy if any other people are brought in to the West Wing.

Last month, the White House announced that John Podesta, who served as chief of staff to former President Clinton, will advise Obama. The White House also brought back Phil Schiliro, who served in several key roles during Obama’s first term, to help iron out the glitches of the disastrous healthcare law rollout.

It’s unclear how long Schiliro will stay in the role. But those close to him say, as of now, it’s an indefinite time frame. 

“Schiliro is truly loyal to the cause and he’s not going to leave until healthcare is in a much better place than how he found it,” one former senior administration official said.

Obama will also have to deal with the loss of Gene Sperling, the director of the National Economic Council and the assistant to the president for economic policy.

In the White House press briefing on Monday, Sperling told reporters he will be at the White House for January and “quite a lot of February” as well. But he added, “I am quite confident that when March comes, I will be somewhere else.”

To be sure, Obama will still have a few familiar faces around him. Senior adviser David Simas, who didn’t work on Obama’s first campaign but is very close with former senior adviser David Axelrod, earned a place in Obama’s sacred inner circle. 

Simas, who has been at the helm of healthcare, will continue to help out on strategy and communications.

Senior advisers Valerie Jarrett and Dan Pfeiffer — who has been positioning himself for that role since the beginning of his time with Obama — don’t have plans to go anywhere anytime soon.

Another former senior administration official predicted that the two would be “turning out the lights” on Obama’s final day in office.