Rouse wastes no time in first day on job

President Obama embraces his outgoing chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, whose resignation he announced Friday. Emanuel is headed to Chicago to run for mayor.
President Obama embraces his outgoing chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, whose resignation he announced Friday. Emanuel is headed to Chicago to run for mayor. (Photos By Tracy A. Woodward)
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By Anne E. Kornblut and Scott Wilson
Saturday, October 2, 2010

The Pete Rouse era began shortly before noon on Friday. It didn't take long before the White House started feeling the difference.

Rouse, ushered in as interim White House chief of staff by President 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."

Rouse will soon move into the large corner office being vacated by Rahm Emanuel, whose resignation Obama announced Friday during an emotional farewell.

What Rouse, whom Obama described as his "wise, skillful long-time counselor," will do during his tenure as chief of staff is quickly taking shape.

Administration officials said Rouse's immediate priorities include a post-midterm election reorganization of the White House that will take into account staff departures; operational flaws that may contribute to Obama's declining public approval; and a changed political landscape as the president prepares for reelection.

If the Democrats lose the House on Nov. 2, Obama will be facing a new set of strategic challenges as he pushes unfinished legislative priorities, such as immigration and energy reform; addresses the country's grave fiscal condition; and campaigns for reelection against a potentially stronger Republican Party.

Those who have worked with the 64-year-old Rouse - and the West Wing is filled with them - say he is among Washington's savviest political thinkers.

"The common caricature of Pete is of this reclusive, Maine Coon-cat-loving manager guy who basically pushes the pieces around on the chessboard," one friend outside the administration said. "The piece that is underreported is the piece where he leads these organizations and is a strategist."

Those skills of manager and strategist will be needed within weeks.

In addition to Emanuel's departure to run for mayor of Chicago, several others are leaving the West Wing.

They include Larry Summers, Obama's chief economic adviser, who is returning to Harvard. Senior adviser David Axelrod has said he intends to return to Chicago in the spring to help with Obama's reelection effort. Retired Marine Gen. James L. Jones, the national security adviser, has also hinted that he would like to leave in the new year.


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