With Rahm Emanuel announcing Friday that he's leaving the White House to run for mayor of Chicago, President Obama is expected to name his senior adviser, Pete Rouse, to serve as acting (and perhaps permanent) White House chief of staff. (Update: Obama announced Friday that Rouse will serve as "interim" chief of staff.)
In choosing Rouse, Obama is tapping a near-opposite of his outgoing chief of staff. Rouse eschews the spotlight, preferring to operate as a self-described "behind-the-scenes" manager. "I fix things," Rouse told NBC last year, in one of his only recent interviews. He has rarely been photographed, much less with his boss. And while he knows many reporters, Rouse infrequently speaks to the media -- unlike Emanuel, who has been known to e-mail and phone White House beat reporters at all hours.
Yet like Emanuel, Rouse is a consummate insider. He enjoys a close relationship to the president dating back long before Emanuel was invited into the Obama inner circle. His name is well known around Washington, thanks in large part to his nearly three-decade-long resume as a Capitol Hill staffer.A Connecticut native who graduated from Harvard, Rouse got his first job in Washington in the early '70s as a clerk in the Senate mailroom. He worked his way up, working mostly for Democrats — though in 1979 he moved to Anchorage (his mother was from Alaska) to work for GOP Lt. Gov. Terry Miller. In 1982, he returned to Washington, where he managed the office of then-Rep. Dick Durbin of Illinois.
Four years later, Rouse went to work for his longtime friend and former staff colleague Tom Daschle. For 18 years, Rouse served as chief of staff to Daschle, a South Dakota senator and onetime Democratic majority leader. When Daschle lost his bid for re-election, Rouse planned to leave the Hill, but instead went to work for Obama, then a rising-star freshman senator.
Advisers such as David Axelrod and Robert Gibbs are more widely credited with crafting Obama's successful presidential run -- but Rouse was the actual steward of Obama's presidential ambitions, assembling a strategy document that put the senator on the path to his 2008 presidential bid. "There would be no Obama without Pete," says a Democratic strategist who has worked closely with the Obama team.
It was Rouse who famously urged Obama to vote against John Roberts' nomination to the Supreme Court in 2005, reminding him that a vote for Roberts could derail his future political ambitions. It was also Rouse who encouraged Obama to develop relationships with GOP senators, including Indiana's Richard Lugar, then-chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Chuck Hagel, a moderate from Nebraska who ultimately endorsed Obama in '08. Obama also formed a friendship with Tom Coburn, an Oklahoma Republican who worked with the senator on spending issues and still speaks frequently to the president today.
In early 2005, Obama tried to foster a relationship with another Republican, John McCain, by signing onto an effort by the Arizona senator to pass tougher lobbying and ethics rules. But when Democratic leaders urged the caucus to sign onto their bill to present a united front, Rouse reportedly advised Obama not to cross his own party leadership. That counsel prompted Obama to drop his support of McCain's efforts — creating bad blood between the two lawmakers that persisted throughout the '08 campaign.
Tapped as a senior adviser to the White House last year, Rouse was charged early on with helping manage Obama's health care reform efforts. While Emanuel dove into the sticky details of specifics in the bills, lobbying members of Congress at the House gym and via late night phone calls, Rouse was charged with the lower-profile but arguably more important task of finding common ground with Democrat Ben Nelson and other wavering moderate Democrats and Republicans. White House officials and Democrats on the Hill widely credit Rouse for ultimately winning Nelson's vote on the bill.
On Thursday, White House Press Secretary Gibbs confirmed that Obama would make a personnel announcement in an 11 a.m. press gathering Friday in the East Room. He declined to confirm reports that Emanuel will leave and that Rouse will replace him, deferring to Obama's announcement. Yet in a briefing with reporters, Gibbs offered up praise for Rouse, saying, "The type of trust the president and others in the administration have in Pete is enormous."
One administration official, who declined to be named, told The Upshot that the White House has yet to inform staffers of who might succeed Emanuel. Still, the staffer said that many of them expect the pick will be Rouse, who is regarded as a "tough manager" but not nearly as abrasive as Emanuel could be.
It's unclear whether Obama will name an "acting" chief of staff Friday or Emanuel's ultimate successor — Gibbs declined to give any specifics there, either. Some had expected Obama to wait until after Election Day to name Emanuel's replacement, given the political shift in Washington that could take place Nov. 2. But Obama may already know what he's looking for in a chief of staff -- especially a White House lieutenant who will soon have to manage the administration while Obama prepares for a 2012 re-election bid.
(2009 photo of Rouse, on the right, with Obama and another aide: Charles Dharapak/AP)
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