Rouse begins as chief of staff
Friday, October 1, 2010; 2:01 PM
The Pete Rouse era began shortly before noon on Friday. And quickly, the White House started feeling the difference.
Rouse, ushered in as interim White House chief of staff by Obama in the East Room, called his first senior staff meeting for that afternoon - and scheduled it to last just 10 minutes. It is typical Rouse, advisers said: swift and to the point, without leaving room for people to show off or hold endless debates.
"If a meeting should take 10 minutes, Pete is not going to make it go 11," one senior administration official said. "Pete does not want to meet for the sake of meeting."
What Rouse will do during the rest of his tenure - whether it lasts two months or two years or more - is only now starting to take shape. Senior officials said there will be some obvious departures from the first 20 months of Obama's term, when Rahm Emanuel held the job.
Although Obama joked about their different temperaments during the East Room ceremony ("Obviously, these two gentlemen have slightly different styles," the president said,drawing laughs), the biggest change may not be Rouse's calmer demeanor. It may be his focus on how the West Wing runs: Already, Rouse is conducting an organizational review to figure out what structural changes are needed at the White House as Obama shifts into a new phase of governing.
Over the next two years - having achieved 70 percent of his campaign promises, as Obama likes to say - the administration will move into a less "legislatively intense" period that will require a different setup, which Rouse is examining, administration officials said.
The restructuring will take into account senior advisers who may want to leave (such as National Security Adviser Jim Jones) or head to Chicago to run the 2012 reelection campaign (such as senior adviser David Axelrod or deputy chief of staff Jim Messina). And it will take stock of 2012 more broadly, considering whether former campaign manager David Plouffe will go into the White House (as expected) and recognizing that the moment the midterm elections end on Nov. 2, the presidential campaign will be underway.
"Pete will not look at the staff reorg as one person here, one person there, but at how everybody works and fits together," a senior official said. Another senior official said the assessment is "on track" to be completed by November, and, given all the flux the West Wing is experiencing with so many departures, should help "settle everything down here." They asked to remain anonymous to speak candidly about internal personnel matters.
On Capitol Hill, where he worked for more than three decades, Rouse received a warm reception. During the Emanuel tenure, some members of the party felt shut out at times - and fretted that the priorities were not progressive enough.
Still, said one aide to a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, "Like him or not, Rahm was a known quantity." Rouse is an unknown, the person said, and is "another insulated Obama person."
Staff writers Scott Wilson and Perry Bacon Jr. contributed to this story.