WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama on Friday said a bittersweet goodbye to the energetic and fierce manager of his White House, chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, and elevated a quiet and seasoned adviser, Pete Rouse, to the most important gate-keeping job in American politics.
"We could not have accomplished what we've accomplished without Rahm's leadership," Obama said. Emanuel is departing after nearly two grueling years to run for Chicago mayor.
The announcement was such a poorly kept secret that Obama joked it was "the least suspenseful announcement of all time," but it represented an important moment of transition for the presidency.
What Emanuel leaves behind is more than a staff job. It is the most demanding and influential position in the White House â€" save for Obama's. The person who holds it is entrusted to help shape the president's thinking, prioritize his time, manage scores of egos and issues and keep the White House focused on its goals.
The mood at the White House reflected that this was no ordinary staff change. Cabinet members and senior staff members packed the ornate East Room, a setting often reserved for visits of heads of state, for the official word that Emanuel, the hard-charging leader of the staff, was on his way out.
Rouse, named interim chief of staff, is a calm, trusted senior adviser to Obama who has spent much of his career as a chief of staff in the Senate.
"There is a saying around the White House: `Let's let Pete fix it,'" Obama said. "And he does."
In a nod to the political sensitivities of Emanuel's move, he never directly mentioned that he was running for mayor, and Obama didn't touch that, either. Emanuel, sure to be cast as an outsider by his competitors in the upcoming mayoral campaign, did not want to announce his run from Washington.