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Gibbs talks about leaving the White House

Calling his nearly two years as the president's chief spokesman -- as well as his nearly seven years as a close adviser -- an "opportunity of a lifetime," White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said he would soon be leaving to take on a new role as an outside adviser to the White House.

Gibbs said he expects to depart his position at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in early February to become a paid consultant working outside the White House to re-elect President Obama in 2012.

"What I'm gonna do next is step back a little bit recharge some; we've been going at this pace for at least four years," Gibbs told reporters at the top of his regular White House briefing. "I will have an opportunity, I hope, to give some speeches. I will continue to provide advice and counsel to this building and to this president. And I look forward to continuing to do that."

The departure of a man who has worked closely with Obama since he ran for the Senate in 2004 is part of what Gibbs himself called a "major retooling" of the White House staff -- aimed at bringing in fresh voices and perspectives from outside the Washington bubble, even if it also includes familiar faces like David Plouffe, who ran Obama's 2008 campaign.

"I think David will bring a perspective that is fresh, because he hasn't been inside of here for two years ,and I think that's important," Gibbs said. "I don't think it's a matter of necessarily just seeing totally different people, I think there's a perspective that you gain when you're not in here every day."

The White House is set to announce members of a reshaped economic team this Friday, Gibbs said. Other personnel changes -- among them naming a permanent chief of staff to replace Rahm Emanuel -- are likely to be made quickly given the amount of work to be done.

Gibbs said there was no doubt the White House was "a tough place to work," and he added that although Obama was a president "that I love and respect," it was time to take a break. At one point, in response to a question, the spokesman said he had not had a vacation without his Blackberry in "probably almost seven years."

Gibbs said Obama would likely be the last political candidate he would work for, but did not rule out taking corporate clients.

The president released a statement hailing his spokesman's work at the podium. Obama called him a "close friend" and one of his "closest advisers."

"I think it's natural for him to want to step back, reflect and retool," Obama's statement read, in part. "That brings up some challenges and opportunities for the White House -- but it doesn't change the important role that Robert will continue to play on our team."