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Former Clinton aide Podesta joining White House to advise Obama

John Podesta, then president and chief executive officer of the Center for American Progress, attends the National Italian American Foundati
John Podesta, then president and chief executive officer of the Center for American Progress, attends the National Italian American Foundati

By Jeff Mason

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - John Podesta, a former chief of staff to President Bill Clinton, is returning to the White House to advise President Barack Obama as he struggles to regain his footing after the flawed healthcare law rollout.

Podesta steered Obama's transition team in 2008 after he won the presidency. His arrival is a signal that the president, famous for accepting counsel primarily from a tight-knit group of advisers, is looking for some outside help as he seeks to regain momentum in his second term.

Podesta will have the title of counselor to the president. Obama's chief of staff, Denis McDonough, had the idea to bring him on, White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters. The top Democratic strategist will stay with the White House for one year.

"He will advise on a range of issues with a particular focus on issues of energy and climate change," Carney told reporters on Air Force One during Obama's return flight from South Africa, where he was attending a memorial service for Nelson Mandela.

Obama's top energy and climate adviser, Heather Zichal, recently left the White House. Obama laid out a strategy for tackling global warming earlier this year.

Podesta will also help McDonough on issues related to the healthcare law and executive orders.

The White House has made clear that on policy issues where it fails to get congressional support it will seek to take executive actions that do not require lawmakers' votes.

Carney said Podesta's tenure would coincide with the 2014 calendar year.

Longtime presidential counselor Pete Rouse is expected to step down soon, leaving another hole in Obama's team of long-serving advisers.

Top political strategists David Plouffe, David Axelrod and Robert Gibbs - who helped the president win both elections and were key figures in his first term White House - did not stay for the president's second term.

Obama has been criticized for being too insular. McDonough, since becoming chief of staff, has addressed that criticism by increasing White House outreach to lawmakers on Capitol Hill, for example, with mixed results.

The new blood comes during a particularly rocky phase of Obama's presidency after the flawed rollout of his healthcare law hurt Obama's standing with his political base and fellow Democrats, who are trying to hold on to power in the U.S. Senate and regain control of the House of Representatives in next year's midterm elections.

Podesta is the chair of the Center for American Progress, a left-leaning policy group that has close ties to the Obama administration. He is also a former adviser to Tom Daschle, the former Senate Democratic leader from whom Obama has inherited other trusted staffers.

(Reporting by Jeff Mason; Additional reporting by Steve Holland on Air Force One; Editing by Eric Beech)

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