Updated at 1:33 p.m.
Robert Bauer is stepping down as President Barack Obama's counsel, returning to his old job at Perkins Coie and opening the door for Obama's third counsel in three years.
Kathryn Ruemmler, who has served as Bauer's principal deputy, will take over the top job, according to a White House news release announcing the change today. The switch will take effect at the end of the month.
The White House counsel is typically one of a president’s top advisers. The office runs the process for selecting judicial nominees, leads the response to congressional investigations, drafts potential executive orders and defends the presidency’s constitutional powers. It touches on subjects as varied as where to try the suspected Sept. 11 plotter Khalid Sheikh Mohammed to liability for last year’s Gulf of Mexico oil spill.
Bauer’s departure coincides with the ramping up of Obama’s reelection campaign. As the head of the election law practice at Perkins Coie, Bauer was the president’s chief campaign lawyer in 2008 and he has been general counsel to the Democratic National Committee. He will return to those roles, the news release said.
“I think Bob Bauer has wanted to leave for a long time. The job is exhausting and relentless,” said Jamie Gorelick, a partner at Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr who was deputy attorney general during the Clinton administration. Gorelick said a change might have come sooner, but “it has taken awhile for the president to decide on his successor and to make plans for Bob’s transition back to the private sector and to the campaign.”
Bauer kept a low profile, as others in his position have. In one of his only public appearances, he spoke to the liberal American Constitution Society in February about ways to speed up the confirmation process for judicial nominees.
Bauer succeeded Gregory Craig as White House counsel in January 2010. Craig is now a partner at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, where he represents former Democratic vice presidential nominee John Edwards among others.
“Bob is a good friend and has served as a trusted adviser for many years,” Obama said in the news release. “Bob was a critical member of the White House team. He has exceptional judgment, wisdom, and intellect, and he will continue to be one of my close advisers.”
Ruemmler, 40, was at the Justice Department before moving to the White House staff the same time as Bauer. She served as the principal associate deputy attorney general under then-Deputy Attorney General David Ogden. She was a partner in Latham & Watkins’ Washington office from 2007 to 2009.
Earlier, she served as a federal prosecutor, including as deputy director of the Justice Department’s Enron Task Force. She delivered the government’s closing argument in the trial of former Enron executives Kenneth Lay and Jeffrey Skilling in 2006.
Obama called her “an outstanding lawyer with impeccable judgment.”
Gorelick said that Ruemmler clearly has the confidence of Bauer and others. “He has seen her in action, as has the president and other senior members of the White House staff, and they have liked what they’ve seen,” she said.
In December, The National Law Journal reported that Ruemmler had taken on the White House’s “spear-catcher” role, leading the initial planning for how to respond to increased congressional oversight by the House’s new Republican majority.
Ruemmler will be the third female White House counsel, after Beth Nolan during the Clinton administration and Harriet Miers under George W. Bush. She spoke to The American Lawyer, a National Law Journal affiliate, for a 2007 story about some of the challenges facing women litigators, including constraints on her body language in front of juries and occasional comments from male lawyers.
Ruemmler recalled that, during a 2004 trial, she was riding an elevator with one defense lawyer who said to her: “While we’re picking the jury, why don’t you go get us some sandwiches?” Ruemmler was one of three lead prosecutors.
(A fourth woman, Cheryl Mills, served as acting counsel in the Clinton White House but declined to take the job on a permanent basis. Mills is chief of staff to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.)
The White House did not immediately say who Ruemmler’s principal deputy would be. Another of Bauer’s deputies, Donald Verrilli Jr., is the president’s nominee for solicitor general and is awaiting a confirmation vote as soon as next week. A third deputy, Susan Davies, is best known for shepherding Justices Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor to confirmation.