Choked-up Emanuel leaves White House

Choked-up Emanuel leaves White House

An emotional Rahm Emanuel said goodbye Friday to the White House in what President Obama described as the least suspenseful announcement in history.

Emanuel’s departure was rumored from the moment Chicago Mayor Richard Daley announced his retirement, and the news of a White House announcement that he would leave immediately to run for Daley’s old job leaked out early this week.

But that didn’t prevent the White House from giving Emanuel a grand send-off from the East Room, where most of Emanuel’s colleagues sat in attendance. Emanuel choked up as he said farewell to profuse applause from White House staff.

Obama described the day as "bittersweet," saying he is excited for Emanuel's mayoral bid. He added that the former Illinois congressman is "extraordinarily well-qualified" to be Chicago's mayor.

"He has been a great friend of mine and will continue to be a great friend of mine," Obama said. "I will miss him dearly."

Pete Rouse, a senior adviser to Obama who served as his chief of staff in the Senate, will take over from Emanuel on an acting basis. He stood with Obama and Emanuel during the announcement.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs later said Rouse could see the acting part of his title disappear. Gibbs said a decision on a permanent chief of staff is still “several months” away, but added that Rouse’s interim role would not preclude him from the job.

He said Rouse is undergoing an organization review as part of the normal turnover at the White House.

Republicans took time to criticize the new chief of staff, who is less well-known inside and outside the Beltway than the colorful Emanuel.

The Republican National Committee described Rouse, known to some as the 101st senator for his work as chief of staff to former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, as the “ultimate Beltway insider.”

They also said Obama and the White House should keep their focus on the economy and jobs. RNC communications director tweeted that the East Room event illustrated “Obama’s White House obsession with itself.”

Rouse will have big shoes to fill. Emanuel was a former member of the Democratic leadership with close ties to the party’s influential voices on Capitol Hill. Rouse has deep experience on Capitol Hill, where he’s a well-known figure, but is likely to face an even more challenging environment if he stays on permanently.

Republicans are poised to make big gains in the House and Senate, and could take over one or both chambers, making it more difficult to navigate the White House agenda through Congress.

Obama signaled he has full faith in an aide known as a White House fixer.

"There is a saying around the White House: 'Let's let Pete fix it,'" Obama joked. "And he does."

While neither Obama nor Emanuel specifically said Emanuel is running for mayor — Obama joked that Emanuel is resigning to "explore other opportunities" — the outgoing chief of staff is reportedly embarking on a listening tour in Chicago this weekend.

Obama and Emanuel joked about the Washington legend's brash style, with Obama telling his time-worn joke about Emanuel being rendered mute when he sliced off part of his middle finger in high school.

The president praised Emanuel for his "unmatched level of energy and enthusiasm and commitment," crediting his chief of staff for helping to shepherd healthcare reform and financial reform through Congress and for helping to restore America's leadership in the world.

Obama said after he won the presidency, Emanuel was the only person he knew could help at a time of dire economic crisis.

The president joked that he told Emanuel he had "no choice in the matter" when he asked him to serve as chief of staff.

Since then, Obama said, Emanuel "has exceeded all of my expectations."

The president did not offer an endorsement for Emanuel's mayoral bid, but he did say that Emanuel is "extraordinarily well qualified" for the position.

Obama acknowledged Rouse and Emanuel have starkly different styles. While Emanuel is a former congressman and Democratic House leader, Rouse, according to Obama, "has never seen a microphone or a TV camera that he liked."

Emanuel, speaking after Obama, appeared to be kicking off his campaign in the East Room, calling Chicago "the greatest city in the greatest country in the world."

While Emanuel said the day is "bittersweet" for him, too, he said he is "energized by the prospect of new challenges and eager to see what I can do to make our hometown even greater."

Emanuel praised Obama for his "unfailing grace, intelligence and courage," saying that while on the verge of total economic collapse, Obama "had the guts to make the tough calls" to prevent a second Great Depression.

While Emanuel didn't win Obama's endorsement Friday, he appeared optimistic the president will soon return to the Windy City, perhaps on Emanuel's behalf.

"Thank you, Mr. President, I look forward to seeing you in Chicago," Emanuel said.

Jordan Fabian contributed to this story

This story was updated from an earlier version