US: Obama bids farewell to faithful press flack

Robert Gibbs steps down from his role as White House press secretary.

Last Updated: Feb 12, 2011, 13:37 PM IST

Washington: US President Barack Obama bade farewell to his spokesman Robert Gibbs on Friday, joking that after President Hosni Mubarak`s exit, his flack`s departure was not the most important exit of the day.

Gibbs is stepping down from the high-pressure role as White House press secretary after more than 250 on-camera briefings, but is expected to play a big role in Obama`s 2012 re-election campaign.

"Gibbs` departure is not the biggest one today," Obama said in the White House briefing room.

A sometimes acerbic former college goalkeeper from Alabama has been with Obama since the beginning of his big-time political career, when he made an unlikely run for Senate in 2004 that turned into a presidency.

"Robert started very early with me on this wild ride that I`ve been on," Obama said.

"When I won the Democratic primary in Illinois, I realised that I was going to have to start staffing up a little bit.”

"I still didn`t have a lot of money, so all I could afford was Gibbs," Obama joked, then turned serious, saying that Gibbs had been an "extraordinary" spokesman and a great friend.

"You could not ask for somebody better in the foxhole with you during all the twists and turns of my candidacy, and then the incredible challenges that we faced over the last two years."

Obama presented Gibbs with the very same tie that he borrowed minutes before going on stage to give the electric speech at the 2004 Democratic nominating convention which launched him onto the national stage.

Gibbs, who had a sometimes contentious relationship with the press, paid tribute to his backroom team of press spokesmen.

"It is a tremendous honour and privilege to do this each and every day, to serve and to -- to take part in days like today that are so momentous," he said.

Gibbs has been the President`s most visible public advocate, and played a role in the White House that is more sweeping than the press spokesman`s traditional portfolio.

Gibbs will give speeches and eventually take a paid role on Obama`s re-election bid, as he continues to promote the President`s agenda.

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 aides to have a limited shelf life.

From the podium in the White House press room, Gibbs appeared to relish sparring with reporters and skewering Obama`s Republican foes, but also has had a seat at the table in the administration`s sensitive inner deliberations.

Gibbs is a keen sports fan and sprinkled briefings with sporting metaphors, and once had to don a Canadian ice hockey jersey on camera after losing an Olympic bet with his counterpart in Ottawa.

He will be replaced on Monday by former Time magazine reporter Jay Carney, who has been working as Vice President Joe Biden`s press secretary.

Bureau Report