With the expected departure of presidential chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, leaving before U.S. national elections to run for mayor of Chicago, President Barack Obama can turn to a number of ready replacements.
Among them: Thomas Donilon, deputy national security adviser for the president, a former secretary of state’s chief of staff and a seasoned hand in Democratic Party politics.
Obama is considering Donilon for both chief of staff and national security adviser, administration officials speaking on condition of anonymity said. They said his preference may be the top national security post at the White House should retired Marine General James Jones leave that job. The administration hasn’t indicated that its top adviser is going.
Emanuel is likely to leave the White House before November congressional elections to run for mayor in his hometown of Chicago, people familiar with the matter said.
Emanuel, who would be running to replace Mayor Richard M. Daley, could depart by early October, after Congress leaves for a recess to campaign, the people said on condition of anonymity. The White House has announced no plans about Emanuel’s future.
“I am not aware that he’s made any decisions,” said Robert Gibbs, the White House press secretary. “The president is not aware of him making any decisions.” Emanuel, he said, “is doing this in a process outside of the White House.”
Ready to Move
At the same time, Gibbs said, the White House stands ready to replace the most powerful official on the president’s staff.
Among those being considered to fill the chief-of-staff post are Ron Klain, Vice President Joseph Biden’s chief of staff; White House Counsel Robert Bauer, and Donilon,” people familiar with the situation said.
The timing of Emanuel’s departure would allow him to devote full attention to the Chicago race while still giving the president time to choose his replacement as the chief gate-keeper for the Oval Office.
Emanuel, 50, would be the fourth top-level Obama adviser to leave the White House since July. The administration announced Sept. 21 that National Economic Council Director Lawrence Summers will leave by the end of the year to return to Harvard University. Peter Orszag, who was budget director, and Christina Romer, head of the president’s Council of Economic Advisers, have already left the administration.
Donilon, 55, has been involved in Democratic politics for more than three decades. He held a White House post in the administration of President Jimmy Carter and worked on the 1984 and 1988 Democratic presidential campaigns.
Donilon went to work in 1986 for Biden, who was a senator from Delaware and became chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee in 1987. Donilon joined President Bill Clinton’s administration in 1993 to work at the State Department and eventually served as Secretary of State Warren Christopher’s chief of staff.
Donilon left government in 1996 to work at the law firm O’Melveny & Myers before being hired by Fannie Mae, the nation’s largest mortgage finance company, in September 1999.
He was executive vice president for law and policy at Fannie Mae, leaving in 2005 after the its regulator, the Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight, found Fannie Mae broke accounting rules and improperly deferred expenses to meet an earnings target that triggered the maximum bonuses for company executives.
Donilon joined the Obama administration, where he has become a trusted and valuable adviser to the president.
Emanuel was the first major appointment announced by Obama after the 2008 presidential election.
Speculation about Emanuel’s plans increased after he said in an April 19 interview on PBS television’s “Charlie Rose” show that running for mayor has long been an aspiration of his, though he wouldn’t run against Daley. Then Daley announced on Sept. 7 that he wasn’t seeking re-election.
Nov. 22 is the last day to file nomination papers for the Feb. 22 Chicago mayoral election. That contest is almost certain to be followed by an April 5 runoff for the top two vote- getters, assuming no one gets more than 50 percent support.
A growing list of candidates is exploring bids for the office following Daley’s announcement that he wouldn’t run for a seventh term as mayor of America’s third-largest city.
Other potential candidates include Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart; State Senator James Meeks, minister of one of Chicago’s largest congregations; former city Inspector General David Hoffman; Democratic U.S. Representative Luis Gutierrez, and former U.S. Senator Carol Moseley Braun.
The office has been held by the current Mayor Daley or his father, Richard J. Daley, for 43 of the past 55 years.
Emanuel, a Chicago native, owns a house in the Lakeview neighborhood, where he lived while he was a member of Congress representing a district that includes parts of the city and adjacent suburban areas. When he and his wife, Amy Rule, moved their family to Washington, they rented out the 2,719-square-foot home, the Chicago Tribune reported.
If he runs, Emanuel is likely to face questions about help he received from a Daley patronage army to win the congressional seat in 2002 and conversations he had with former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich about who should be picked to fill the U.S. Senate seat that was vacated by Obama.