Obama's centers of power

His new chief of staff faces a unique challenge

At the beginning of his first term, President Obama concentrated power in a handful of close aides, all of them working in the White House complex, all of them, save one, having the audacity to be longtime loyalists. Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and senior adviser David Axelrod worked hand-minus-a-part-of-a-finger-in glove on domestic policy. Valerie Jarrett, Obama's best friend, handled outreach, the president's personal affairs and style, and the business community. Foreign policy was determined largely by Obama's consultations with long-time advisers like Denis McDonough and Ben Rhodes, rather than by an integrative process where outsiders like National Security Adviser Jim Jones and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton played roles as equals.

In some ways, Emanuel was ideal for Obama's first year: A force of nature, brimming with ideas, Washington know-how, and savvy. Maybe he made the wrong calls, but he got things done. He was feared and respected. As Obama eased into his office, he gradually expanded the circle of first-among-equals. His next two chiefs of staff were managers; Bill Daley and Jack Lew kept the trains running on time.

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Marc Ambinder

Marc Ambinder is TheWeek.com's editor-at-large. He is the author, with D.B. Grady, of The Command and Deep State: Inside the Government Secrecy Industry. Marc is also a contributing editor for The Atlantic and GQ. Formerly, he served as White House correspondent for National Journal, chief political consultant for CBS News, and politics editor at The Atlantic. Marc is a 2001 graduate of Harvard. He is married to Michael Park, a corporate strategy consultant, and lives in Los Angeles.