President Obama's choice of prominent Chicago banker William Daley to serve as his new chief of staff signals a strong shift for the administration as the White House intensifies its efforts on the economy. Obama also is set to announce his new economic team Friday to coincide with the release of the first unemployment figures of the new year.
"The president is focused very much on the economy and on the job situation right now," said White House press secretary Robert Gibbs. "It's a difficult environment, given where we are economically."
Daley, an executive at JPMorgan Chase and a former commerce secretary in the Clinton administration, brings a distinctive whiff of the boardroom to the West Wing, which is largely populated by political operatives.
Obama, aiming to reverse perceptions that he is anti-business, is keen to promote business-friendly policies that help create jobs -- currently the most urgent priority as he readies his 2012 re-election plans.
Daley's arrival signals a certain level of risk-taking for Obama, who prefers surrounding himself with people he knows well. The choice of Daley, who is familiar but not close to the president, sparked an angry backlash from Obama's liberal base.
Justin Ruben, executive director of MoveOn.org, called the pick "troubling" and said Daley represents the industries widely blamed for tanking the economy.
"It's up to Daley to prove that he's not carrying water in the White House for the big banks that took our economy over the cliff," Ruben said.
Daley takes over at a pivotal moment for the administration. Economists are predicting Friday's jobs report to be better than expected, after private payroll processor ADP Employer Services reported a December increase in jobs that was the largest since 2001.
"I'm convinced that he'll help us in our mission of growing our economy and moving America forward," Obama said of Daley, who replaces fellow Chicagoan Rahm Emanuel.
Obama on Thursday also opened a new front in the simmering fiscal battle with congressional Republicans, notifying leaders that he will push to raise the government's debt limit.
The government is expected to reach the current limit of $14.3 trillion by early spring, and the White House is warning that failure to raise it and allow the government to keep borrowing could kill more jobs and drive up interest rates.
But Republicans are so far opposing any increase in borrowing, potentially setting up a standoff that could shut down government.
By framing the debate early in terms of jobs, the White House is making it clear they hope and expect to win a public relations battle if Republicans force a government shutdown. Republicans, meanwhile, want spending cuts.
"While America cannot default on its debt, we also cannot continue to borrow recklessly, dig ourselves deeper into this hole, and mortgage the future of our children and grandchildren," said House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio.
Brian Riedl, a Heritage Foundation economist, predicted tough choices ahead on the economy for both parties.
"The status quo," he warned, "is a path to national bankruptcy."