Reshaping the tone and tenor of the White House, President Barack Obama on Friday replaced the colorful and caustic Rahm Emanuel with the private Pete Rouse as his chief of staff, shifting to a new phase of his presidency with a drastically different aide as trusted gatekeeper.
"As almost all of you have reported, my chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, has informed me that he will be leaving his post today to explore other opportunities," Obama said at a press conference.
Emanuel's decision to quit the White House and run for Chicago mayor had been so well known that even Obama mocked the lack of suspense. But it still felt like the most important transition to date for the Obama operation, which has been fueled for nearly two years by Emanuel's demands, drive and discipline.
The White House chief of staff sets the tone for the executive branch's operations and can, in principle, be seen as largely responsible for success or failure of presidential policy directives. As gatekeeper, the person who holds the chief of staff position manages the president's time and has a major role in decisions about access to the president.
In Emanuel's case, given that he had been a high ranking member of the Illinois delegation in the House of Representatives, he also played a crucial legislative liaison role for Obama. He was a central figure in pushing the president's legislative agenda through one of the most bitterly divided congresses in recent history.
It is likely that Rouse will be less dominant than Emanuel regarding the U.S. administrations' point of views on Israel and the Middle East peace process, pro-Israeli organizations in Washington told Haaretz, adding that Rouse was a leading aide to former democrat senator Tom Daschle who had a strong pro-Israeli record.
The ceremonial changing of the guard in the glittering White House East Room was a clear loss for Obama, who relied heavily on Emanuel's intensity, discipline and congressional relationships to keep the White House focused.
Other top aides to Obama already had announced their departure in recent weeks, as the Obama presidency reached its midpoint. Those kinds of personnel moves are not unusual two years into a presidential term.
The changes occur, however, with Obama's Democratic Party facing serious challenges in the Nov. 2 congressional elections. Widespread losses by the party, broadly expected in both the House of Representatives and Senate, could signal a much wider White House shake-up.
The mood at the announcement reflected that this was no ordinary staff change. Cabinet members and senior staff members packed the room, a setting often reserved for visiting heads of state.
Rouse, the interim replacement, is a calm, trusted senior adviser to Obama who has spent much of his career as a chief of staff in the Senate. Unlike Emanuel, he rarely talks to the press.
There is a saying around the White House: "Let's let Pete fix it," Obama said.
Through the ceremony and befitting his style, Rouse stood quietly by the president and never spoke. Obama described him as never seeing a television camera or a microphone that he liked, unlike the boisterous Emanuel.
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