Video: Shake up in the West Wing

  1. Transcript of: Shake up in the West Wing

    LESTER HOLT, anchor: Turning to the White House now and the latest departure from the president's inner circle. As expected, Rahm Emanuel , the chief of staff , is leaving to run for mayor of Chicago . For more on Emanuel and the man who will replace him, Peter Rouse , our chief White House correspondent Chuck Todd joins us now.

    Chuck: Good evening, Lester . Well, look, the departure ceremony today for Rahm Emanuel as outgoing chief of staff served almost as a pep rally and a trip down memory lane of the first two years of the Obama presidency, both Rahm Emanuel and President Obama going through the different achievements that took place under the stewardship of Emanuel . But it was also an arrival ceremony for Peter Rouse . And Pete Rouse was a one-time chief of staff to then Senator Obama . Before that was known, nicknamed the 101st senator when he was the chief of staff to Senate majority leader Tom Daschle . By bringing in Pete Rouse , also David Plouffe who was the campaign manager -- he's coming in here in a couple of months -- you see the Obama West Wing preparing now for what are going to be political battles over the next two years. The first year with a new Congress in some form or another, with either a narrow majority or a narrow minority or -- and as well as the presidential campaign in 2012 . Lester :

    CHUCK TODD reporting: Chuck Todd . Chuck , thanks.

    HOLT:

NBC News and news services
updated 10/1/2010 2:57:19 PM ET 2010-10-01T18:57:19

President Barack Obama has made official the news that's been known for days: Rahm Emanuel, his hard-charging chief of staff, has resigned.

"Welcome to the least suspenseful announcement of all-time," joked Obama in a East Room news conference Friday.

NBC News

The president said goodbye to chief of staff and wished him well as he "explores other opportunities" — a coy reference to Emanuel's anticipated mayoral campaign in Chicago.

The president lauded Emanuel as an "incomparable leader" and a "selfless public servant." He added,"We could not have accomplished what we've accomplished without Rahm's leadership."

Obama also announced that Pete Rouse, a deeply trusted senior adviser to the administration, has been named interim White House chief of staff. The president called him a "skillful problem solver.

'Bittersweet day'
At the White House event, Emanuel called it a "bittersweet day." He thanked the president for his "warm friendship and confidence."

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"Mr. President, I thought I was tough," Emanuel told Obama. "I want to thank you for being the toughest leader any country could ask for in the toughest times any president has ever faced."

Referencing his well-known penchant for profanity during his White House tenure, Emanuel also told the president: "I'm sure you've heard some words you've never heard before."

Emanuel appeared to choke up as he spoke of his family's immigrant background, and the opportunities he's been afforded.

"I want to thank you for the opportunity to repay, in some small portion, the blessings that this country has given to my family ... I give you my word, that even as I leave the White House, I will never leave that spirit of service behind."

Emanuel never directly mentioned that he was running for mayor, and Obama didn't either. Emanuel, sure to be cast as an outsider by his competitors in the upcoming mayoral campaign, did not want to announce his run from Washington.

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But Emanuel did call Chicago "the greatest city in the greatest country in the world." And he told Obama, "I'm energized by the prospect of new challenges, and eager to see what I can do to make our hometown even greater."

Rouse, befitting his style, 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. The differences were even apparent on stage — Rahm with his trademark hands on hips, Rouse still and stoic.

Rahm's parting gift
Emanuel leaves behind more than a staff job. It is the most demanding and influential position in the White House — save for Obama's. The person who holds it is entrusted to shape the president's thinking, prioritize his time, manage scores of egos and issues and keep the White House focused on its goals.

Emanuel gave a teary-eyed farewell to his senior staff members earlier Friday after receiving a gag gift of an enormous, dead Asian carp, sources in the White House told NBC News. He received the fish from administration official Austan Goolsbee (a fellow Chicagoan who volunteered on Rahm's first campaign for Congress).

First Thoughts: Assessing Rahm

"I know that I pushed you all very hard," he said in a five-minute-long goodbye speech. "But I did it in service to the president and I believe that our whole country is better off for it."

The permanent replacement?
Rouse is considered a leading choice to become the permanent chief of staff. So is Tom Donilon, the deputy national security adviser known as a skilled interagency manager, although he may be a logical replacement for national security adviser James Jones upon his expected departure in the coming months. Another top candidate is Ron Klain, although he might be reluctant to leave his job as Vice President Joe Biden's chief of staff.

Exit Rahm Emanuel, enter Pete Rouse

Obama's choice comes in the context of a personnel reorganization, two years into a grueling presidency, with some key players already planning to leave the White House grind and others likely seeing changes in their portfolio. The results of the Nov. 2 House and Senate midterm elections will also be a factor.

Emanuel and Rouse could not be more different in their personalities and style. Emanuel, 50, is a fast-moving, disciplined and notoriously profane manager — the once and future politician who served as an Illinois congressman and always had a longing for running for mayor of his hometown Chicago.

Rouse, 64, shuns the spotlight but has quietly built up an enormous wealth of trust and relationships in Washington. Those close to him say that he provides what Obama needs — a sharp and strategic mind, a sense of continuity, a knack for troubleshooting and an ability to keep people focused on their tasks. Rouse served for years as chief of staff to then-Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle and is known on Capitol Hill, but he won't be found schmoozing at political dinners.

Video: Emanuel bids tearful goodbye to White House

The plan within the White House is that some of Emanuel's responsibilities will be shared among other senior officials, not just Rouse. White House officials also say it is a strength that Rouse will bring his own style to his job and that every White House expects change and needs it.

Over the last three decades, White House chiefs of staff have typically served for two to three years.

Obama, after winning a seat to the Senate, recruited Rouse to be his chief of staff there and ultimately made him a top adviser in the White House.

The move pits Emanuel against a growing field of local politicians vying for the Windy City job that will be vacated next spring by Mayor Richard M. Daley, who announced in early September that he will not seek a seventh term. Emanuel's victory in the race is no given, with rivals certain to attack the longtime political operative and former congressman as a brusque outsider who belongs more to Pennsylvania Avenue than Michigan Avenue.

NBC News' Savannah Guthrie contributed to this story.

NBC News and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Explainer: Rahm's permanent replacement: Top contenders

  • Who will take over Rahm Emanuel's spot once he leaves the White House to pursue his mayoral run in Chicago?

    Msnbc.com presents its shortlist of the candidates who could permanently replace Emanuel, starting with the new interim chief of staff, Pete Rouse:

  • Pete Rouse, Senior adviser to President Obama

    Image: Rouse
    Pete Souza  /  The White House
    Pete Rouse on Oct. 13, 2009.

    Pete Rouse, currently a senior adviser to President Barack Obama and a veteran of Capitol Hill, has been named interim chief of staff. There is also some speculation that he might stay on even longer.

    Rouse is a behind-the-scenes man who began his career as a Senate aide in 1971 and worked as chief of staff for South Dakota senator and former Majority Leader Tom Daschle (another person who's been mentioned as a possible replacement for Rahm). In 2004, after Daschle lost re-election, Rouse was tapped to work as Obama’s Senate chief of staff.

    Rouse has been with Obama from the very beginning — through his campaign and transition to president — and possesses what Obama described in a 2007 interview with The Washington Post as an invaluable knack for “looking around the corners of decisions and playing out the implications of them.”

    According to The New York Times: "The decision to tap Mr. Rouse reflects a desire by the president to maintain his small circle of close advisers for now rather than bringing in an outsider or elder statesman to present a new face."

    Interactive: First Thoughts: Assessing Rahm
  • Ron Klain, Chief of staff to Vice President Joe Biden

    Image: Klain
    Andrew H. Walker  /  Getty Images
    Ron Klain on May 13, 2008.

    When rumors of Emanuel's possible bid for mayor of Chicago first began to swirl, many eyes turned to Vice President Joe Biden's own chief of staff, Ron Klain, as a possible replacement.

    Klain has served as the chief of staff for two vice presidents — Biden and Al Gore — and made a name for himself early on in his career as being something of a Democratic "young gun."

    Shortly after graduating from Harvard Law School and clerking for former Supreme Court Justice Byron White, Klain became chief counselor on the Senate Judiciary Committee at the age of 27. By 31, he was the chief of staff for the attorney general. And by 34 was Gore’s chief of staff.

    Biden has reportedly said he would not be surprised if Klain serves on the Supreme Court one day.

  • Tom Donilon, Deputy National Security Adviser

    Image: Donilon
    Ng Han Guan  /  AFP - Getty Images
    Tom Donilon.

    Along with Rouse and Klain, Donilon's name continues to come up in discussions about who could replace Emanuel. Donilon has told NBC News he is not interested in the position — perhaps because he has his sights set on replacing National Security Adviser James Jones, who is expected to leave his post at some point in the next few months.

    Donilon is known as a skilled interagency manager with lots of experience working under previous administrations.

    He served former Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton as well as current Vice President Joe Biden.

    Donilon managed the Democratic National Committee between 1980 and 1984 and, more recently, served on Obama's transition team, vetting State Department officials.

    In his current role as deputy national security adviser, Donilon helped craft the 30,000-troop surge in Afghanistan.

  • Tom Daschle, Senior policy adviser, DLA Piper

    Image: Daschle
    Mark Wilson  /  Getty Images
    Tom Daschle.

    Daschle, a South Dakota native who is now a senior policy adviser to the law firm DLA Piper, has extensive on-the-ground policy experience in Washington and has been a major “front man” for the Democratic party since the 1980s.

    After serving on the staff of Sen. James Abourezk in the 1970s, Daschle was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1978. He served in the House for eight years before he was elected to the Senate in 1986.

    Daschle became the Democratic leader in 1992, spending most of his career in the Senate as Minority Leader — save for a two-year stint as Majority Leader from 2001 to 2003. During his time in the Senate, Daschle leaned on Pete Rouse, a veteran adviser on the Hill who is also in the running to be Obama’s next chief of staff.

    The possible rub: Daschle was Obama's first pick to be secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services but withdrew after disclosing he had not paid $140,000 in back taxes — a large portion of which came from the use of a limousine and driver.

  • Leon Panetta, Director, Central Intelligence Agency

    Image: Panetta
    J. Scott Applewhite  /  AP file
    Leon Panetta.

    A former chief of staff to President Bill Clinton from 1994 to 1997 and the current director of the Central Intelligence Agency, Leon Panetta would be a seasoned pick for Obama.

    Panetta was an assistant to Sen. Thomas Kuchel in California in the mid-1960s and a Nixon administration official.

    In the early 1970s, Panetta switched his party affiliation and ran for the U.S. House of Representatives in 1976.

    He served in the House until 1993, rising to the post of chairman of the House Budget Committee.

    He also served as Clinton's budget director before becoming his chief of staff.

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