New White House spokesman Jay Carney is a key part of a staff makeover by President Barack Obama that he hopes will bolster his search for common ground with Republicans and help his 2012 re-election bid.
Carney, a former Time magazine reporter who spent years peppering White House officials with questions, is now seeing what it is like to face the television camera lights.
In his first week, the 45-year-old Carney has sounded a less partisan tone than his predecessor, Robert Gibbs, who was a top adviser in Obama's 2008 election and who eagerly engaged in battle with Republicans from the White House podium.
Carney largely declined to take the bait on Thursday when asked about a blast from House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner that Obama "wasn't elected to just sit there in the Oval Office, he was elected to lead."
"I think I said yesterday and I'd like to reiterate that this president has taken on enormous challenges and led in major ways," Carney said. "He has done big things."
Mike McCurry, a White House press secretary for Democratic President Bill Clinton, noticed that Carney said he served two masters — the president, and then the media.
"It's early, but I think Jay is not as pugilistic," McCurry said.
Carney was not part of the inner campaign circle that helped Obama win in 2008, and is something of an outsider.
He got to know the president and his team as communications director for Vice President Joe Biden and received good reviews for helping frame Biden as a man of policy heft rather than just someone who delivers the occasional gaffe.
The Obama staff makeover that brought in Carney included a new chief of staff, Bill Daley, who was commerce secretary for Clinton and a bank executive.
Daley is seeking to improve White House messaging and project a more compromising tone after the first two years of Obama's term were dominated by fierce debates over healthcare and government spending.
Work with Republicans
After a poor showing by Democrats in congressional elections in November that saw Republicans take control of the House of Representatives, Obama must work with Republicans rather than rely simply on fellow Democrats in the House and Senate to pass his agenda.
He has one eye on his re-election campaign in 2012 when he needs to win over independents and would benefit from a substantial drop in the unemployment rate of 9 percent.
As Obama told a news conference this week, Americans want to see that both sides "are willing to give a little bit, and that there's a genuine spirit of compromise as opposed to people being interested in scoring political points."
In Carney's first two briefings, he projected a calm, affable demeanor, and did not get himself into trouble.
"He's noticeably less partisan in his answers," said Towson University political scientist Martha Joynt Kumar, who studies White House communications.
Because of his background as a print reporter, "he's very comfortable with the notion that you have to get the right word and work with a broad range of words," she said.
Carney brings to the White House the advantage of knowing how reporters think and operate, and may be able to improve relations with the restive press corps amid a constant clamor for greater access.
"I do work for the president, but I'm also here to help the press understand what we're doing, to give the best information I can give — with the help of a great team — and that's what I will try to do," Carney told reporters.
It is expected the White House team will try to remain focused on the substance of policy and deflect partisan campaign questions to Obama's re-election campaign staff when it is fully formed.
Bill Galston, a Brookings Institution economic expert who worked in the Clinton White House, said the question for the Obama team was whether it could achieve "a greater measure of agenda discipline and message discipline than was achieved during the first two years."
"It's very simple," said Galston. "During the first two years, the administration had an agenda that was arguably too broad ... and they had a hard time focusing on their single best argument in favor of the agenda they were trying to move, and so ended up wandering from argument to argument."