Emanuel to Be Chief of Staff

The llinois Congressman has accepted the job as President-elect Barack Obama's chief of staff.
By Anne E. Kornblut and Karen DeYoung
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, November 7, 2008

President-elect Barack Obama made the first appointment of his new administration yesterday, choosing Rep. Rahm Emanuel to serve as White House chief of staff when he takes office in January.

The selection of the fellow Illinois Democrat, a close Obama friend who embraces a sharp-edged approach to politics, could signal a rapid succession of appointments. Obama is expected to announce in the coming days that he will place two senior campaign aides, David Axelrod and Robert Gibbs, in key roles. Those early staffing decisions, coupled with reports that a number of prominent and established people are under consideration for Cabinet roles, suggests that Obama is focused more on projecting a reassuring image of continuity and competence than of quickly bringing wholesale change to a nation facing two wars and a severe economic downturn.

Obama plans to gather with a diverse team of economic experts today in Chicago and hold his first news conference since winning the presidency. On Monday, he and his wife are scheduled to meet with President Bush and the first lady at the White House, projecting a spirit of cooperation during a time of crisis.

The changeover in the executive branch is playing out across the board, as Obama's transition team moves into agency offices across Washington and the president-elect prepares to name his first Cabinet officials, something that could happen as early as next week. From the Environmental Protection Agency to the Energy Department to the Labor Department, Obama and his aides are seeking to establish a delicate balance as they try to select from a mix of policy experts and political operatives while also maintaining a solid representation of women and minorities and mixing in, as Obama pledged to do, some Republicans and independents.

Obama's choice of Emanuel -- a veteran of the Clinton years with a quick wit, a legendary temper and a strong grasp of policy -- signaled a potential mood shift away from the serene "no drama" ethos that defined his campaign. It also demonstrated Obama's eagerness to be accompanied by tested allies in navigating his first act in the White House.

"Though Rahm understands how to get things done in Washington, he still looks at the world from the perspective of his neighbors and constituents on the Northwest Side of Chicago, who work long and hard, and ask only that their government stand on their side and honor their values," Obama said in a statement.

Even before the announcement was official, Republicans pounced on the choice as a partisan pick from an incoming commander in chief who had promised to reach across party lines. House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) described it as an "ironic choice for a president-elect who has promised to change Washington, make politics more civil and govern from the center." But other lawmakers, including some who have clashed with Emanuel at times, said they expected him to bring order and energy to the fledgling administration despite his rough edges.

"There's always, 'Oh, he's too this and he's too that.' He was also the political director for the Clintons, and he's going to put in 24-hour days, and he's going to be dedicated and committed," said Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez (D-Ill.). Although Gutierrez described himself as "no fan of Rahm Emanuel," he said he believes that Emanuel "is going to be effective."

"His job isn't to win Mr. Congeniality, it's to get the legislative agenda passed," Gutierrez said. "They're looking for mechanics who can get this stuff done."

With the first indications of who will staff the Cabinet emerging and rumors running rampant inside the Beltway about potential selections, some hints about the kind of administration Obama will attempt to create are surfacing.

"What is beginning to take shape is a group of people that are unified in their purpose but diversified in their perspectives and views," said Rep. Robert Wexler (D-Fla.). "All of them are rooted in pragmatism and reality in the context of accomplishing demonstratable results. He's going to have a group of people that from Day One all know what they're doing, are deeply committed to Senator Obama's philosophy, but isn't a 'yes' group, not at all."

Axelrod, who served as chief strategist for the Obama campaign, is expected to take on the role of senior adviser in the West Wing. He is one of the few aides not already anchored in Washington, and like Obama, he will have to move from Chicago. Gibbs is expected to become the White House press secretary, although neither appointment is official.

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2008 The Washington Post Company