WASHINGTON (AP) — One of President Barack Obama's longest serving advisers, who joined his team a decade ago when he was running for the Senate, is leaving the White House this month to work as a lawyer in private practice.
Danielle Gray will step down as White House Cabinet secretary after the president delivers his State of the Union address on Jan. 28. She is looking to join a law firm and teach.
Gray is among a handful of Obama's aides to announce resignations in the new year, as fatigue sets in after five years of all-consuming work. Their departures are leaving the president without some of his most trusted advisers.
Gray, 35, has handled a variety of tasks for Obama, including helping to write his health care law to protect it from inevitable legal challenges. Obama said in a statement that he's grateful that Gray put her legal career on hold to work for him for a decade.
Gray wanted to leave a year ago, but Obama asked her to stay on as his Cabinet secretary to start his second term. Disputes over policy and communications can erupt between the White House and Cabinet members, such as the first term debate over the Afghanistan war effort that came to light from a memoir by former Defense Secretary Robert Gates.
White House chief of staff Denis McDonough said Gray deepened interactions with members of the Cabinet and made sure their concerns were being heard by the president in the weekly reports. "We'll continue to prioritize that," McDonough said. He said her replacement has not been chosen.
Obama's statement said Gray has been instrumental in helping shape his administration's policy. "And over the past year, as Cabinet secretary and a close adviser to me, she has not only helped make sure every agency in the federal government remains focused on giving hardworking Americans a fair shot at opportunity, but that our policies reflect the values we have always fought for," Obama said.
Gray, like Obama, is a graduate of Harvard Law School who was an editor of the Harvard Law Review. One of her professors at Harvard was future Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan, and Gray helped Kagan and fellow Justice Sonia Sotomayor through their confirmation process in the first Obama term. Some in the White House wouldn't be surprised if Gray, who also clerked for Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, is a judicial nominee herself one day.
Gray, a native of Riverhead, N.Y., got a bachelor's degree from Duke and worked briefly at a New York law firm after graduating from Harvard in 2003. But she gave up that lucrative career path to work on Obama's 2004 campaign for Senate and was one of the early staffers on his presidential campaign as a policy adviser.
When Obama took office in 2009, she came to the White House counsel's office and later worked for the Justice Department's Civil Division. She returned to the White House in 2011 as deputy director of the National Economic Council.
Obama senior adviser Valerie Jarrett said Gray likely will continue working with the White House from the outside on issues important to her and have a role in Obama's post-presidency. Obama "has made it clear to Danielle that he expects her to be a part of his life forever," Jarrett said.
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