Obama Announces Rahm's Departure

President Obama's chief of staff Rahm Emanuel is stepping down, and the president's senior adviser, Pete Rouse, is stepping into the role until a permanent replacement is named. The resignation has been expected for days, but Obama made it official Friday with an announcement at the White House. Naming the replacement could have implications for the upcoming midterm elections.

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ARI SHAPIRO, host

President Obama has announced just moments ago that his chief staff, Rahm Emanuel, is stepping down. Emanuel is expected to run for mayor of Chicago. Pete Rouse is taking the chief of staff role until a permanent replacement is named, and he has been the president's senior adviser for some time now.

Emanuel's resignation has been expected for days, but this morning's ceremony makes it official.

President BARACK OBAMA: This is a bittersweet day here at the White House. On the one hand, we are all very excited for Rahm as he takes on a new challenge for which he is extraordinarily well-qualified. But we're also losing an incomparable leader of our staff, and one who we are going to miss very much.

SHAPIRO: That was President Obama, speaking at the White House just moments ago. And NPR's Scott Horsley joins us now from the White House. Good morning, Scott.

SCOTT HORSLEY: Good morning, Ari.

SHAPIRO: Give us a sense of this event. It came across as kind of emotional.

HORSLEY: It really is. You know, the president called this one of the least-suspenseful announcements of all time - because as you say, that word of Emanuel's departure has been out there in the press for a while. But there really is a sense of moment in the East Room. The Cabinet secretaries are arrayed, the staff is there, and Rahm Emanuel himself displaying unusual emotion as he gives his send-off.

SHAPIRO: How much of a loss will his influence be on the White House?

HORSLEY: Well, you heard the president say, this is bittersweet. No one is going to replace Rahm Emanuel. This is a guy with boundless energy and a larger-than-life personality, a speaking style that gets an awful lot of mileage out of one particular four-letter word.

(Soundbite of laughter)

HORSLEY: But that said, even if the Chicago mayor's job had not come open, Emanuel probably would have been leaving within a year or so. The average tenure for White House chief of staff is about two and a half years. And Emanuel had often said he didn't plan to serve for the president's full term. And there are examples where bringing in a new chief of staff can provide a fresh start for an administration. We saw that when Leon Panetta joined the Clinton White House back in '94, or when Josh Bolten come aboard the Bush White House as it was struggling in 2006. So this is certainly a loss, but also an opportunity.

SHAPIRO: Well, give us a sense of the new chief of staff, or at least the new interim chief of staff, Pete Rouse. Who is he?

HORSLEY: He is being described as the anti-Rahm. He's much lower profile, a behind-the-scenes player. As the president joked today, he's never met a TV camera or microphone that he wanted to be in front of - very different than Rahm Emanuel. But what they have in common is they're both workaholics. Pete Rouse has been a longtime adviser to Barack Obama, ever since he first became a senator. And well before that, he was chief of staff for the Democratic Senate leader Tom Daschle. So he has deep ties on Capitol Hill. He's definitely a member of the president's inner circle, and certainly has the president's trust.

SHAPIRO: You can tell just by the look and the body language of these two men, how different they are - during this event this morning.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SHAPIRO: Well...

HORSLEY: Here's Rahm Emanuel, smiling, winking, pointing to people in the audience. And here is Pete Rouse in the unaccustomed position of being in the spotlight, at the president's side.

SHAPIRO: Looking like he wanted to disappear into his suit.

(Soundbite of laughter)

HORSLEY: Exactly.

SHAPIRO: Well, briefly, how much of an impact will the midterms - where Democrats are expected to lose some of their strong majority, if not control of Congress altogether - how much impact will that have on the search for a successor?

HORSLEY: That's a good question. If the Democrats do lose their majority, the president will have to find a new way of navigating. Maybe he will be using congressional Republicans as a foil. Maybe he'll be looking for new ways to work together with them. And the person in the chief of staff's office could influence that course, and vice versa.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Scott Horsley, speaking with us from the White House about the president's formal announcement that Rahm Emanuel is stepping down as White House chief of staff - presumably, to run for mayor of Chicago - and that Pete Rouse will be his interim replacement.

(Soundbite of music)

SHAPIRO: This is NPR News.

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