Rahm Emanuel ended his 20-month tenure as President Barack Obama’s chief of staff today to run for mayor of Chicago as the president named Peter Rouse, a longtime loyalist, as his interim replacement in one of the most influential jobs in the White House.
“We are all very excited for Rahm as he takes on a new challenge for which he is extraordinarily well qualified,” Obama said a departure ceremony in the East Room of the White House, calling it “the least suspenseful announcement of all time.”
In a high-profile changing of the guard, Obama is relinquishing the hard-charging Emanuel and elevating senior adviser Pete Rouse to interim chief of staff, whom he said is “a skillful problem-solver” and “wise, skillful and long-time counselor.”
“There’s a saying around the White House: ‘Let’s let Pete fix it,’” Obama said.
Emanuel, 50, a former Illinois congressman known as a combative negotiator, is heading to Chicago in a bid for a job that’s been a long-time goal after spearheading major Obama initiatives, including overhaul of health care and revamping the financial industry.
Rouse, 64, is more reserved by contrast, a troubleshooter who prefers a more behind-the-scenes role. He’s built a reservoir of trusted relationships at the White House and in former years in Congress that help him navigate Washington.
Rouse, who has more than 30 years of experience in public service, was a former top aide to then-Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota. Rouse was known as “the 101st senator” for his influence.
The two “have slightly different styles,” Obama said, referring to Emanuel, known partly for his profanity.
“I pointed out that Rahm, when he was a kid, had lost part of his finger in an accident, and it was his middle finger, so it rendered him mute for a while,” Obama said to laughter.
Even so, he said, Emanuel deserves considerable credit.
“It’s fair to say that we could not have accomplished what we’ve accomplished without Rahm’s leadership, from preventing a second Depression to passing historic health care and financial reform legislation, to restoring America’s leadership in the world,” Obama said.
For almost the first half of his presidency, Obama began and ended his day in meetings with Emanuel, “a great friend,” who he said offered candid views and insightful opinions.
“I’ve intruded on his life at almost any hour of the day, any day of the week, with just enormous challenges,” Obama said.
Emanuel thanked Obama for allowing him to serve in “these consequential times.”
‘The Tough Calls’
Addressing the president, Emanuel said, “You had the guts to make the tough calls that stopped the free-fall and saved our country from a second Great Depression.”
He said Chicago is the “greatest city in the greatest country in the world” and recalled his family immigrating to the U.S. “for a better life for their children.”
Pausing and choking back tears, Emanuel said: “Both my parents raised me to give something back to the country and the community that has given us so much. And I want to thank you for the opportunity to repay,” with public service.
In the handoff to Rouse, Emanuel lauded his replacement, saying he “commands the respect of everyone in this building.”
Emanuel served three terms in the U.S. House representing part of Chicago’s North Side and adjacent suburbs before being picked by Obama for the White House job that began in January 2009. He said in April that being mayor of his hometown was a longtime aspiration, though he wouldn’t run unless Mayor Richard M. Daley decided not to seek reelection.
Daley announced Sept. 7 that he wouldn’t run for a seventh term.