President Obama, as expected, announced today that his chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, will leave Washington to explore a run for mayor of Chicago. The president named senior advisor Pete Rouse as his interim chief of staff.
"This is a bittersweet moment," the president said, as he praised Emanuel, adding that "we could not have accomplished what we accomplished without Rahm's leadership."
The president also praised Rouse as a can-do person. "There's a saying around the White House, 'Let's let Pete fix it' and he does," the president said.
Rouse brings a wealth of experience to the job, including over 30 years serving as a chief of staff to various members of Congress including former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D. Rouse's influence and experience earned him the nickname The 101st Senator.
Rouse also brings a low-key temperament, in contrast to Emanuel's hard-charging style. Administration officials say Rouse's demeanor will suit the White House well at this point in time.
White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs has emphasized the long history and relationship between Obama and Rouse.
"Pete has been with [Obama as] Senator-elect, Senator, President-elect, and now President Obama," said Gibbs. "There is a complete loyalty and trust with somebody like Pete. Pete's strategic sense has played a big part in the direction of virtually every big decision that's made inside of this White House."
Gibbs said that the type of trust that Obama and the administration staff have for Rouse is enormous.
Also enormous? The job Rouse is about to step into.
When former West Wing staffers were asked to describe the role of the White House chief of staff, words like coordinator, enforcer, confidant, counselor, and leader were frequently used.
The job is all-consuming; the hours are never-ending, the demands and pressures immense.
"You are the principle person, the architect, with the president day in and day out," said former Reagan chief of staff Ken Duberstein.
University of Akron political science professor David Cohen is writing a book on the subject: "Catching the Javelin: The Chief of Staff in the Modern White House."
According to Cohen, the chief of staff can have a fingerprint on nearly everything that comes up at the White House – making the trains run on time, managing personnel, guiding policy and politics and representing the administration's perspective in interviews.
"I don't think there is a more critical position. You can look at the modern presidency and correlate a successful president with a successful chief of staff," Cohen said. "A good chief of staff can really help a president achieve his goals.
"When things are going really well, it's a great job. But when it's not, well it's tough," Cohen said.
Dan Bartlett , counselor to former President George W. Bush, said that turning to someone like Rouse was a smart move in order to facilitate a smooth transition, rather than turn to someone with "their own political profile and ego that could bump up against the president."
The average tenure for a chief of staff in the modern White House is about two-and-a-half years. George W. Bush's first chief of staff Andy Card broke that mold, serving nearly five-and-a-half years.
Several people with West Wing experience said that one critical trait a chief of staff needs to bring to their work is the ability to provide the president with solid counsel.