Obama spokesman Gibbs to step down

US President Barack Obama’s top spokesman Robert Gibbs said Wednesday he will step down and work outside the White House as a voice for his boss, as an administration reshuffle gathered pace.

Gibbs, one of Obama’s closest advisors, possesses sharp political instincts and a sometimes tart briefing style. He plays a central role in the White House and is not limited to the traditional press secretary portfolio.

He told AFP he would work on Obama’s 2012 reelection bid, continue to advise his boss from outside the White House and take to the speaking circuit in support of the president and his policies.

The departure of Gibbs, who was due to conduct his first briefing of 2011 later on Wednesday, will come as Obama contemplates a reshuffle to freshen his administration and as his reelection campaign machinery begins to stir.

Obama told The New York Times in an interview on Wednesday that Gibbs “will continue to shape the dialogue politically for many years to come.”

“We’ve been on this ride together since I won my Senate primary in 2004,” Obama told the paper.

“He’s had a six-year stretch now where basically he’s been going 24/7 with relatively modest pay. “I think it’s natural for someone like Robert to want to step back for a second to reflect, retool and that, as a consequence, brings about both challenges and opportunities for the White House.”

The brutal hours and high pressures of working in the White House exact a heavy toll on staffers, and it is not unusual for press secretaries and other senior advisors to have a limited shelf life.