November 22nd, 2010
11:42 PM ET
Ed Henry provides the inside scoop from the White House North Lawn.
Washington (CNN) – President Obama is planning to bring former campaign manager David Plouffe onto the White House staff at the beginning of January to work alongside senior adviser David Axelrod for a brief time before Axelrod moves on to help run the re-election campaign, according to a senior administration official and a senior Democratic strategist familiar with the plan.
The sources added that Axelrod is now planning to leave his White House post as soon as immediately after the State of the Union address, which is an earlier departure date than originally expected and could be part of a new round of departures at the White House.
While there have been reports suggesting Plouffe will directly replace Axelrod, the working plan right now is actually for the two veterans of the 2008 campaign to work together for at least a short period as sort of a handoff, as the White House continues to reshape itself to deal with a Republican-controlled House and a shrunken Democratic majority in the Senate.
"I think there will be some overlap," the senior administration official told CNN about Axelrod and Plouffe working together next January.
While Axelrod is known as a master strategist he is the first to admit that he's disorganized, while Plouffe's key strength demonstrated during the 2008 campaign was crafting a plan and implementing it with meticulous precision.
"David will be very focused on executive strategy," a senior Democratic strategist said of Plouffe's plans to help Obama deal with a divided Congress and prepare for what may be a very difficult re-election campaign based on the slow economic recovery and anger within the country over the President's policies.
After his highly successful run as Obama's campaign manager, Plouffe has most recently been serving as a senior Democratic National Committee official advising the White House on the midterm election and has long been expected to be tapped for a high-profile administration post at some point in 2011 but perhaps not as quickly as January.
Plouffe was seen entering the West Wing of the White House on Monday afternoon and did nothing to knock down the speculation. When asked whether he will be joining the White House staff a little earlier than expected, he said, "We'll figure it out sooner or later."
A key detail that still needs to be worked out is precisely when Axelrod will leave, but CNN is learning for the first time that the senior adviser may exit sooner than expected.
A senior administration official said that Axelrod has now only committed to the President to stay on the job through the State of the Union address, which is expected to be in late January or early February.
This is a slight shift from what Axelrod suggested publicly on Nov. 14, when he said on "Fox News Sunday" that he would be in his White House post for approximately six more months.
"If I were to call you six months from now, will you be working in the White House or will you be working back in Chicago on the campaign?" Fox anchor Chris Wallace asked Axelrod in the interview earlier this month.
"You're right on the line there, I think, Chris," Axelrod said via remote from his hometown of Chicago. "I'll be going back - coming back here to Chicago and beginning to work on that - on that project."
A senior administration official explained that Axelrod wants to get some time off from work altogether to recharge his batteries before immediately jumping into the re-election campaign. Axelrod has essentially been working around the clock for four straight years when you combine his nearly two years in the White House with the two years he spent on the wild and unrelenting 2008 presidential campaign.
There has already been a significant amount of overhaul inside the White House since before the election, starting when Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel left to run for Mayor of Chicago and was replaced by Pete Rouse, who left open a senior adviser slot inside the West Wing. National Security Adviser Jim Jones was replaced by his deputy, Tom Donilon, and administration officials are still looking for a replacement for top economic adviser Larry Summers, who is leaving at the end of the year.
Two senior Democratic officials noted that Plouffe may not take Axelrod's direct portfolio inside the White House because there are also other potential moves coming that could mean a re-tooling of various roles amid some musical chairs inside the administration.
In large part, however, Obama is staying within the family by moving current staffers into new roles rather than injecting new blood into the staff as some outside advisers have suggested the President should do after the "shellacking" he faced on Nov. 2.
The officials said that current energy czar Carol Browner is being considered for a deputy chief of staff role with current deputies Jim Messina and Mona Sutphen expected to leave soon. Messina is moving to Chicago shortly to help run the re-election campaign with Plouffe staying in Washington this time around for the campaign.
The current Congressional liaison, Phil Schiliro, is expected to be elevated to become either a deputy chief of staff or a senior adviser to Rouse, according to the officials. The mostly likely candidate to replace Schiliro as the President's Congressional lobbyist is Rob Nabors, a former White House budget official who is now a senior aide to the chief of staff.
Amid all of the speculation behind the scenes, Plouffe tried to downplay any talk of more big moves ahead. "I'm just visiting," he said with a smile outside the West Wing of the White House.