Obama could set new tone if Emanuel ex­its

Re­plac­ing his chief of staff would in­volve a huge White House cul­ture change.

Los Angeles Times - - Front Page - Peter Ni­cholas re­port­ing from washington

Pres­i­dent Obama may soon make one of the most fate­ful per­son­nel de­ci­sions of his ten­ure, nam­ing a new chief of staff whose job will be to help re­vive a pres­i­dency bat­tered by the weak econ­omy and a Repub­li­can resur­gence.

Rahm Emanuel, who now holds the po­si­tion, is ex­pected to re­sign soon to run for mayor of Chicago, giv­ing Obama a chance to re­con­fig­ure a White House team that has seen lit­tle high-level turnover.

For Obama, the choice comes down to pro­mot­ing a trusted aide fa­mil­iar with the rhythms of the White House or, in a bit of a gam­ble, tap­ping an out­side can­di­date with the stature and in­de­pen­dence to tell the pres­i­dent can­didly what’s work­ing and what’s not.

In­side the White House, the main can­di­dates in­clude

Thomas E. Donilon, the deputy na­tional se­cu­rity ad­vi­sor; Pete Rouse, a se­nior ad­vi­sor who served as chief of staff in Obama’s Se­nate of­fice; Robert F. Bauer, White House coun­sel; and Ron Klain, chief of staff to Vice Pres­i­dent Joe Bi­den.

Out­side, the list in­cludes Tom Daschle, for­mer Se­nate Demo­cratic ma­jor­ity leader; Ersk­ine Bowles, a for­mer chief of staff in the Clin­ton White House and now the co-chair­man of Obama’s deficit-re­duc­tion com­mis­sion; and John Podesta, an­other ex-Clin­ton chief of staff and now head of the Cen­ter for Amer­i­can Progress, a think tank.

Podesta, though, has said he has taken him­self out of the run­ning.

“The can­di­dates that I’ve seen floated are good, de­cent peo­ple, but in­ter­nal can­di­dates,” said Dou­glas Schoen, a for­mer poll­ster for Pres­i­dent Clin­ton, tout­ing the sec­ond op­tion. “What the pres­i­dent needs and would ben­e­fit most from is some­one who has in­de­pen­dent cred­i­bil­ity and can just walk into the Oval Of­fice and say, ‘No, Mr. Pres­i­dent.’ ”

Obama’s choice comes at a per­ilous moment in his pres­i­dency. Schoen just com­pleted a poll of in­de­pen­dent vot­ers that showed only 38% ap­prove of Obama’s job per­for­mance. When Obama won the 2008 elec­tion, he cap­tured 52% of in­de­pen­dents. Over­all, Obama’s ap­proval rat­ing is be­low 50%.

Head­ing into the midterm elec­tion, Repub­li­cans are ex­pected to eat into the Demo­cratic ma­jori­ties in the House and Se­nate, if not erase them al­to­gether.

So Obama’s se­lec­tion will send a strong sig­nal about how he plans to gov­ern in the last half of the term.

Emanuel, a for­mer House mem­ber and long­time Demo­cratic op­er­a­tive, was con­sid­ered well suited to a strat­egy in which Obama sought to push an am­bi­tious agenda through Congress. Emanuel worked to line up the nec­es­sary Demo­cratic votes and then pick off a few

‘The pres­i­dent needs … some­one who has in­de­pen­dent cred­i­bil­ity and can just walk into the Oval Of­fice and say, “No, Mr. Pres­i­dent.” ’

— Dou­glas Schoen, poll­ster for Pres­i­dent Clin­ton

Repub­li­cans to pre­vent fil­i­busters in the Se­nate.

But if Repub­li­cans make strong gains in the Nov. 2 elec­tion, that strat­egy won’t work. Obama may need to side­step Congress and gov­ern more through ex­ec­u­tive or­ders, ve­toes and use of the mega­phone the pres­i­dency com­mands.

That may ne­ces­si­tate a dif­fer­ent kind of chief of staff.

“If the pres­i­dent wants a fresh start, then he’s go­ing to have to send some very cred­i­ble sig­nals that he’s think­ing about the next two years dif­fer­ently than the first two years,” said Wil­liam A. Gal­ston, a se­nior fel­low at the Brook­ings In­sti­tu­tion and a for­mer ad­vi­sor to Clin­ton. “And a chief of staff who’s a rad­i­cal de­par­ture from the one he has now would be a way of do­ing that.”

An ideal can­di­date would be some­one “with pol­icy and po­lit­i­cal ex­pe­ri­ence who is not in the cur­rent fray, who’s a grown-up and treats other peo­ple re­spect­fully,” Gal­ston added.

Al­though he is still eval­u­at­ing whether to jump into the mayor’s race, Emanuel has al­ready said he wants the job, and his friends are urg­ing a quick an­nounce­ment. Can­di­dates face a fil­ing dead­line of Nov. 22.

“He has to make his de­ci­sion soon, get on the ground,” Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) said in a tele­vi­sion in­ter­view. “You can’t win this from the White House; you have to win it from the streets of Chicago.”

Emanuel’s de­par­ture would mean a seis­mic cul­tural shift at the White House. He is a ma­jor per­son­al­ity, lead­ing a 7:30 a.m. meet­ing for se­nior staff and keep­ing a bru­tal pace through­out the week, ex­press­ing him­self in lan­guage sprin­kled with pro­fan­ity.

In a book about the auto bailout, Steven Rat­tner, who headed Obama’s auto task force last year, said Emanuel “ruled by a mix­ture of re­spect and fear.” He ex­pected “per­fec­tion from his sub­or­di­nates. As a re­sult, there was not a lot of love for Rahm.”

A White House aide, speak­ing on con­di­tion of anonymity, said: “Rahm is Rahm. But his abra­sive­ness is en­dear­ing.”

Within the White House gates, there is huge in­ter­est in the post-Emanuel era.

“We haven’t had a ma­jor de­par­ture like this,” said an­other White House aide, also speak­ing on con­di­tion of anonymity. “The change in a ma­jor of­fice changes the char­ac­ter of the place a lit­tle bit.”

J. Scott Applewhite

LEAV­ING? Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, ex­pected to re­sign to run for Chicago mayor, pushed Pres­i­dent Obama’s am­bi­tious agenda with his force­ful per­son­al­ity. If Repub­li­cans make strong gains in Novem­ber, a dif­fer­ent style may be needed.

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