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Emanuel’s White House Departure Paves Way for Lower-Profile Rouse Reign

October 1, 2010 at 4:10 PM EDT
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President Obama ribbed outgoing White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel in a sometimes-emotional ceremony. The departure lays the groundwork for a different managerial style for the administration under new Chief of Staff Pete Rouse. Political Editor David Chalian walks through the changes in the president's inner circle.
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JEFFREY BROWN: There was a changing of the guard at the White House today. President Obama announced he’s losing his chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel. He will be succeeded by a longtime adviser, Pete Rouse.

NewsHour correspondent Kwame Holman begins our coverage.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

KWAME HOLMAN: The president and his right-hand man were greeted with a standing ovation in the White House East Room. More than 150 Cabinet members and senior staffers were there for an event they had expected for days.

U.S. PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Good morning, everybody. And welcome to the least suspenseful announcement of all time.

(LAUGHTER)

BARACK OBAMA: This is a bittersweet day here at the White House. On the one hand, we are all very excited for Rahm as he takes on a new challenge for which he is extraordinarily well qualified. But we’re also losing a incomparable leader of our staff and one who we are going to miss very much.

KWAME HOLMAN: In 21 months on the job, Emanuel played a lead role in mustering votes in Congress for the economic stimulus, health care reform, and new Wall Street regulations. Today, he called Mr. Obama the toughest leader any country could ask for in the toughest times any president has faced. And he grew emotional at times.

WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF RAHM EMANUEL: And I want to thank you for the opportunity to repay, in a small portion, of the blessings this country has given my family. I give you my word that even as I leave the White House, I will never leave that spirit of service behind.

KWAME HOLMAN: Emanuel didn’t announce his candidacy for mayor of Chicago. He did say he wants to make his hometown even greater.

That will end a long run in Washington, as a senior adviser in the Clinton White House, as a member of Congress and a member of the House Democratic leadership, and, finally, White House chief of staff.

Along the way, he earned the nickname Rahmbo for his aggressive manner and strong language. For now, Emanuel is being replaced by veteran aide Pete Rouse. He’s been with Mr. Obama since the president’s days as a U.S. senator from Illinois. Before that, he was chief of staff for Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle.

WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY ROBERT GIBBS: Pete is somebody who is trusted to handle everything and anything, and now he has got everything.

KWAME HOLMAN: That assessment by White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs underscores Rouse’s reputation as a quiet, but powerful figure working in the background. That’s in sharp contrast to Emanuel’s style, as the president noted today.

BARACK OBAMA: Pete has never seen a microphone or a TV camera that he likes.

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

KWAME HOLMAN: Whether Rouse becomes chief of staff on a permanent basis remains an open question. Officials said today that choice may not be made for several months.

JEFFREY BROWN: And with me to fill in the picture is our political editor, David Chalian. David, Rahm Emanuel, from the beginning, was seen as this Washington insider who could force his way and help the president make his agenda, right?

DAVID CHALIAN: And he did help. There’s no doubt. As Kwame mentioned in that piece, Jeff, the stimulus bill, the health care bill, the financial regulatory reform bill, Rahm Emanuel was a key part of getting those bills through Congress. The president gave him some credit for that today, and he deserves a ton of it.

He knew sort of the inner workings of Congress and how to twist some arms for votes. And without Rahm Emanuel at the helm of that operation, those votes may have been even tougher for the president.

JEFFREY BROWN: But that is how he operated through the inside, through Congress?

DAVID CHALIAN: Well, he came — part of the appeal of why Barack Obama wanted him to serve as chief of staff was because he was in the Democratic leadership in Congress and was very well-wired up on Capitol Hill.

JEFFREY BROWN: Now, this wasn’t a surprise after Mayor Daley — and the president alluded to it — the least kept secret here — after Mayor Daley announced that he wouldn’t be running in Chicago.

Emanuel will run, although he didn’t announce it today. But does he — what happens there? What will he face in Chicago?

DAVID CHALIAN: He heads to Chicago this weekend. He heads home to start a listening tour.

And it is no slam-dunk that he is going to be able to win the mayoral election. He is certainly a formidable contender. And you may even call him one of the front-runners. The field has not yet fully taken shape, but his fund-raising alone — he has got $1.2 million in the bank from his House campaign, goes immediately into this campaign.

He is a huge fund-raiser. He did represent the North Side of Chicago. But some of the choices he made as chief of staff really angered the liberal left of the Democratic Party. That may come back to haunt him in Chicago, a little bit of rocky relationships with some minority communities, the Hispanic and African-American community. He will need to work on that as part of his mayoral campaign.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right. And then Pete Rouse, now, the first thing everybody talks about is this contrast with Rahm Emanuel in style, language, everything, personality. But he does have very close ties to the president…

DAVID CHALIAN: Well, right.

JEFFREY BROWN: … and longstanding ties.

DAVID CHALIAN: Right. Style, there is no doubt. You’re absolutely right. They couldn’t be more different. Pete Rouse has none of that brash style of Rahm.

But it not a big shakeup in that sense. President Obama likes to work with people he knows and has worked with. And when he came to town in November 2004, after his election as a senator, Tom Daschle, the then ousted Senate majority leader, basically handed over his chief of staff.

Pete Rouse was known as the 101st senator when he was serving for Tom Daschle, and immediately went to work for Barack Obama, and hasn’t left his side yet. So it’s not going outside and breaking up this notion of an insular White House. It’s using someone from the inside, but someone who has the full respect of all the staff at the White House.

JEFFREY BROWN: And, briefly, more changes to come? What do we look — what do we look for?

DAVID CHALIAN: We already know that Larry Summers, one of the top economic advisers, is heading back to Harvard at the end of this year. And it is widely expected that National Security Adviser Jim Jones is also going to end his tenure in the Obama administration.

This is normal, though, for the two-year mark after a midterm election.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right, David Chalian, our political editor, thank you again.

DAVID CHALIAN: Sure.