Perhaps the worst-kept secret in the White House press corps was that Rahm Emanuel was leaving as chief of staff and would be succeeded by Pete Rouse, senior advisor to the President and one-time top aide to Democratic Senators Tom Daschle (S.D.) and Barack Obama (Ill.).
At 64, the soft-spoken Rouse is a classic Capitol Hill insider and staff man. Central casting could probably not have found someone less like the high-profile Emanuel than Rouse, who worked for Daschle for nearly 20 years until the then-majority leader’s defeat for re-election in ’04 and went to work for freshman Sen. Obama.
If Emanuel was the closest one could be to a prime minister in an American government, Rouse is more the traditional top aide to a President—say, in the same mold as Ken O’Donnell was for John F. Kennedy (for whom he worked when JFK was a senator) or the young Dick Cheney was for Gerald Ford (who moved the former Hill staffer and Deputy Chief of Staff Cheney up to the top job when he gave Chief of Staff Donald Rumsfeld his first stint as secretary of defense in 1976).
By now, many have heard the characterization of Rouse as the “101st senator” and the story of how he convinced then-Sen. Obama to vote against the confirmation of John Roberts as chief justice of the Supreme Court has been widely recycled.
But the important question is: just who gains in clout with Rahm out and Rouse in? The answer is not so easy.
In assuming the top job in the West Wing, Rouse is not exactly taking over a seasoned team, but rather coming in as captain as a new team takes to the playing field.
Top economic adviser Larry Summers recently announced his exit from the administration, his successor unknown. White House counselor and Obama media maestro David Axelrod will also be returning to Chicago, presumably to handle some political campaigns.
Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, who also holds the title of counselor and is considered part of the “Gang of Four” (the four who have round-the-clock access to Obama), is widely expected to move up to full-time counselor and relinquish the task of daily briefings for reporters to Deputy Press Secretary Bill Burton (by far better liked by reporters but unlikely to have near the influence with the President as Gibbs).
Gen. Jim Jones, retired U.S. Marine Corps commandant and national security advisor, is also expected to leave before January, his most likely replacement being his deputy Tom Donilon.
So with all the “musical chairs” and exits, the player on “Team Obama” likeliest to emerge with the most influence is Valerie Jarrett, another “Gang of Four” counselor and close friend and advisor to Obama since his early political career in Chicago. She knows the lay of the land and will be the only aide on the inside whose status is unchanged.
How this will affect public policy—especially if “Team Obama” faces a Republican Congress next year—remains to be seen.