WASHINGTON — The White House on Tuesday shuffled its communications team, with Anita Dunn stepping down as expected and her deputy taking over day-to-day management of President Barack Obama's vaunted messaging machine.
Dan Pfeiffer will become White House communications director and Dunn will became a consultant to Obama's White House, officials said. They expect the full transition to take place before the end of the year.
"Anita working part-time is what most people do full-time," White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett told The Associated Press. "She'll still be a strong presence within the senior team."
Dunn, a seasoned political operative, advised Obama's presidential bid and helped shape its outreach efforts to female voters. She also joined an inner-circle that was heavy on male voices during the marathon presidential campaign.
"She really has earned the president's and the first lady's respect, and she's been a team player," Jarrett said. "She's the strongest advocate you can have on your team."
Dunn initially refused to move to the White House, saying she wanted to spend time with her family. But when the White House's first communications director, Ellen Moran, stepped down to take a job at the Commerce Department, Dunn came aboard on an interim basis.
"She's actually stayed longer that we could have imagined," Jarrett said.
Jarrett, one of Obama's closest friends at the White House, said the president had expected Dunn to scale back her role for a while.
"He has checked in on her on a regular basis and I think she's been clear throughout that the fall was supposed to be her end date," Jarrett said.
Administration officials say Dunn's organization helped steer Obama through a bumpy summer that saw conservatives mobilize against his health care proposals and the daily clamor for the president's time. Officials credit her with shaping the administration's message as the health care proposals inched closer to congressional passage.
Dunn's aggressive style also has made her a top target of conservative commentators. She reacted with a fight with Fox News.
"The reality of it is that Fox News often operates almost as either the research arm or the communications arm of the Republican Party," Dunn said last month. "And it is not ideological... what I think is fair to say about Fox, and the way we view it, is that it is more of a wing of the Republican Party."
Pfeiffer – whom Jarrett described as "stellar" – is similarly aggressive in his defense of Obama, a position he occupied during the campaign. He rose from traveling press secretary to the communications director for the campaign and later transition. A loyal Democratic communications operative, Pfeiffer previously worked for Vice President Al Gore, former Sen. Tom Daschle of South Dakota and Sen. Evan Bayh of Indiana.
Obama and other administration officials initially considered Pfeiffer for the top communications job but instead brought in Moran and Dunn – both women – a communications and press operation that is otherwise heavy on males.
The personnel changes were first reported on The Washington Post's Web site.