Beltway abuzz with talk of who could replace Emanuel as chief of staff

Washington is abuzz over who will replace White House
Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel should he choose to leave his position to run for
mayor of Chicago.

Most of the city seems to think that Emanuel already has
one foot out the door. He has made no secret of his desire to be the Windy
City’s mayor, and the schedule for the campaign means he has to make a decision

White House senior adviser David Axelrod on Wednesday said
Emanuel would make a decision soon.

The sudden and likely vacancy, just eight weeks out from
the midterm elections, has sparked typical Washington speculative fervor,
rumor mills and some wishful thinking.

The Hill talked to a number of Democratic strategists and
some liberal critics of President Obama’s current chief of staff to gather thoughts on who
they think should be managing the White House.

Ron Klain, Vice President Joe Biden’s chief of staff, was one
name that surfaced repeatedly.

“Klain is smart, well respected, has broad experience
in DC/policy/campaigns (Obama is entering re-election) and comes from within
the White House but is not part of the current inner-circle,” one Democratic
strategist who worked in the Clinton administration said in an e-mail.

The strategist noted that Leon Panetta, Erskine Bowles and
Tony Podesta, all former high-ranking aides to former President Bill Clinton, have been mentioned as possible contenders. Tom Donilon, Obama’s deputy
national security adviser, is also being mentioned.

While Donilon has a wide range of experience in both the
political and policy arenas, his time lobbying for Fannie Mae could knock him
out of the running.

All four would give Obama a veteran hand in dealing with
what could be Republican majorities in the next House or even Senate. However,
the strategist from the Clinton administration questioned whether any of those mentioned would
want to return to the grind of what is known as the toughest job in Washington.

Former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle would also give
Obama an adviser with deep experience in Washington. Daschle was thought by many
to be on the president’s short list for chief of staff before Obama picked

But liberals are perpetually angry and dissatisfied with
Obama’s White House — largely because they see Emanuel as a wet blanket on
Obama’s true liberal self — and they say Daschle is a non-starter.

Adam Green, co-founder of the liberal Progressive Change
Campaign Committee, said Obama’s new right-hand man or woman has to be
“someone who will work with, and not against, the progressive movement — and
someone who will be willing to fight, and not cater to, big corporations and

“A corporate lobbyist like Daschle would meet instant
ridicule,” Green said.

Perhaps the biggest concern for the White House is finding
someone who will give the appearance of new blood but also have the
institutional knowledge and relationships to be effective.

While Obama confidante Valerie Jarrett’s name is being
tossed around, many strategists think that picking her would send a bad message
of a president clinging to an echo chamber even as the economy struggles.

“The obvious would be Jarrett, but I think the president
needs to shake things up,” a second Democratic strategist said. “He needs
somebody who will bring progressives (the professional left) back into the
fold — they never liked Rahm — but who can still really push things on the Hill
and keep order within the administration.”

Another strategist said the new pick has to be media
friendly and able to help sell Obama’s message.

“I think it should be someone with a face that can go on
TV and appeal to the American people with gravitas or energy and/or exuding
confidence in the Republic,” the second Democratic strategist said.

“It should also be someone from outside the Obama campaign
or current White House insider.”

The third strategist suggested Trade Representative Ron
Kirk would be a good pick.

“He’s a Texan — moderate,” the strategist said of the
former mayor of Dallas.

“A former politician; knows real people. . . .Was the
president’s mentor on his Senate race and has been in the administration so
they have a great relationship and he can stand up to Axelrod and the others.”

Obama could turn to the Senate to pick a successor. Sen.
Mark Warner (D-Va.) has been mentioned by some observers, though picking Warner could
hand Republicans in the Senate a purple seat. Warner is not up for
reelection for four years.

Timing is a big issue, the third strategist said. And with
Democrats in big trouble this November, one strategist suggested Obama would
have a lot more options if the White House could wait until after the

“Frankly, I’m sure they wish they had more time to make a
decision,” the third strategist said. “There very well might be some unemployed
members of Congress come November.”

Tags Bill Clinton Joe Biden Mark Warner

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