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The Next White House Chief of Staff: Tom Donilon, Peter Rouse on Short List

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Amid the reports that Rahm Emanuel will likely step down as White House chief of staff -- possibly as early as Friday -- to run for Chicago mayor, the question all of Washington is waiting to have answered is: Who would get his job? Senior adviser Pete Rouse is expected to step in on an interim basis, and in so doing could increase his chances to become the permanent chief of staff. But other names have popped up, including Deputy National Security Adviser Tom Donilon and Ron Klain, Vice President Joe Biden's chief of staff.

Rouse, a longtime aide to former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (another person mentioned as a possible replacement for Emanuel) is part of the president's inner sanctum. He has been an Obama hand since the president's tenure as a senator from Illinois. He joined then-Sen. Obama's office in 2004, after Daschle lost his seat to John Thune (R-S.C.).

According to a 2008 interview, Rouse was initially hesitant to sign on with Obama, but eventually took up the invitation because "You could tell that this guy was important to the future of the Democratic Party, in part because he's African American, but the major reason was because he had such intelligence, insights, spark. He had the magic; you can tell he had the magic."

Tom Donilon, Peter RouseBut Rouse had no inkling that the junior senator would so ascend quickly. "My view was, since [Obama was] not running for president in 2008," said Rouse, "[I would] get him started: to set up his operation; get a good team in place; get a good strategic plan in place; get a good structure . . . lay that foundation, and see what happens." Rouse thought, "I'll be in my rocking chair when he runs in 2016 or whatever."

With a long history in Congress, Rouse brings with him a deep knowledge of the inner workings of both chambers: He served then-Rep. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) for several years in the early 1980s before joining the staff of Daschle, with whom he worked for nearly 20 years. Rouse's connections in the Senate have earned him the moniker of the "101st Senator."

Like Emanuel -- who represented Illinois' 5th Congressional District from 2003 to 2009 -- Rouse's background in Congress is considered an asset to the president, who has faced stiff partisan opposition in passing legislation this year, and is likely to face an even more uphill battle after November, following expected GOP gains in both the House and Senate.

Among the other names being bandied about as a permanent replacement for Emanuel are:

Tom Donilon, deputy national security adviser: Donilon, alongside outgoing director of the National Economic Council Larry Summers, recently led a low-profile, high-level delegation to China with the goal of developing greater communication and coordination with the Chinese government on matters of national security (think North Korea and Iran) as well as economic concerns (including Chinese currency manipulation). In doing so, the White House sent a clear message about Donilon's seniority, which some saw as a sign that he was being considered as a possible replacement for Emanuel or as national security adviser -- should either position open up.

According to the new Bob Woodward book, "Obama's Wars," Donilon is known for his "impulsive statements and snap judgments," and would be a "disaster" in a more senior position. But in a recent interview with the Daily Beast, senior staff at the NSC countered the Woodward characterization, saying, "Inside the NSC, 95 percent of policy decisions get made before they reach the principals, and that's because of Donilon and the work he does with the deputies. It works because he's so efficient and obsessively well-prepared for everything he has to do. He manages to keep on top of an incredible volume" of work.

Donilon's background as a Democratic political strategist would be an asset to the Obama White House: He has worked for Jimmy Carter, Walter Mondale, Michael Dukakis, Bill Clinton and Joe Biden. From 1999 to 2005 he was a registered lobbyist working for Fannie Mae. Donilon has also spent time inside the White House, serving President Clinton as the assistant secretary of state for public affairs and as chief of staff for Secretary of State Warren Christopher. As such, Donilon oversaw foreign policy initiatives, including the Balkan peace negotiations and the expansion of the NATO relationship between the U.S. and China.

Ron Klain, chief of staff to Vice President Biden: Klain, a lawyer by training, was the Washington director of the 1992 Clinton-Gore presidential campaign. Following work on the Clinton transition team, Klain became an associate in the White House counsel's office. Majority Leader Daschle later appointed him to become the staff director for the Senate Democratic Leadership Committee, but Klain left in 1995 to enter the White House as chief of staff to Vice President Al Gore. His service to Gore continued, most notably in the 2000 presidential elections, where Klain headed the Democratic campaign for a recount.

Following Gore's loss, Klain returned to the legal world as a partner at the Washington law firm O'Melveny and Myers, where his work included lobbying for the airline, pharmaceutical and mortgage industries. When Biden was elected vice president, he tapped Klain to be his right-hand man -- though Biden has great admiration for Klain's legal skills and once said he'd like to see him nominated for the Supreme Court.

A senior White House official, asked about Klain's chances of succeeding Emanuel, told Politics Daily, "Ron would be outstanding in that job, but he is incredibly loyal to the vice president. I don't see him leaving Biden."

Klain has close ties to Emanuel and John Podesta, another Democratic insider, both of whom served alongside Klain in the Clinton administration.

Rumors also abound about Tom Daschle and current CIA chief Leon Panetta as possible long-shot picks. But one name no longer on the list is Senior Adviser Valerie Jarrett. Sources say she is happy where she is and has no interest in moving into a chief of staff role.

Whoever eventually secures the position, it's clear that the Obama White House will be playing a complex game of jigsaw in the following months. Budget Director Peter Orzsag and Chair of the President's Council of Economic Advisers Christina Rohmer both recently left the White House; Economic Chair Larry Summers will be leaving at the end of the year; and senior adviser David Axelrod is expected to leave his work in the Oval Office to begin mapping out Obama's 2012 re-election bid.

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What do you suppose makes them qualified? Are they radicals, anti-capitalists? Maybe they didn't pay their taxes. Maybe they're former (or current) union bosses. In this administration....those are all Resume Enhancers!

September 29 2010 at 12:29 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

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