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Who is Pete Rouse?


Rahm Emanuel is expected to announce his resignation tomorrow, and Pete Rouse, whose current title is the bland "senior adviser", is likely to step in to replace him. It's not clear if Rouse would replace him temporarily or permanently, but either way, the pick is no surprise.

Back in August 2008, Dana Goldstein and I reported out an article on Obama's relationship with the existing powers in the Democratic Party, and our interviews quickly led me to see Rouse as the key figure in the Obama operation. Rouse's background and connections were the only way to explain how a state senator who gave a great convention speech could, in two short years, build a national campaign operation able to credibly challenge -- and eventually overcome -- Hillary Clinton's juggernaut. Here's the relevent section from the piece:

Often called "the 101st Senator," Rouse, an understated 62-year-old with 30-odd years of Capitol Hill experience, had been Tom Daschle's powerful chief of staff. When Daschle was ejected from the Senate, he hoped Rouse would continue to work with him in the private sector. But Rouse received an expected call from Cassandra Butts, the policy director on Dick Gephardt's 2004 presidential campaign and an old law school chum of Obama's. Butts asked Rouse to meet with the newly elected Obama. Grudgingly, Rouse had lunch with the young senator. Obama asked him to sign on as chief of staff--a demotion of sorts, dropping Rouse from the office of the most powerful Senate Democrat to that of the most junior member of the body. Rouse politely declined. Obama kept asking. Eventually, Rouse accepted.

Most outsider candidates for the presidency recruit an outsider team to deliver it. Bill Clinton's main strategists in 1992 were the little-known Paul Begala and James Carville. His first chief of staff was Mack McLarty, a childhood friend who had risen to become chairman of the Arkansas Democratic Party. It was a team untainted by Washington but also unschooled in how Washington worked.

The Obama campaign and Senate staff, by contrast, are full of Daschle and Gephardt veterans--an unexpected rebirth of the power bases and reputations of two politicians who had long been written off. Obama's chief of staff is the aforementioned Daschle associate, Pete Rouse. His deputy campaign manager, Steve Hildebrand, managed Daschle's 2004 campaign. His director for battleground states, Jennifer O'Malley Dillon, and his director of communications, Dan Pfeiffer, were both deputy campaign managers for Daschle in 2004. Obama's foreign-policy director, Denis McDonough, was Daschle's foreign-policy adviser, and his finance director, Julianna Smoot, was head of Daschle's PAC. Many of those who didn't come from the Senate minority leader's office came from the House minority leader's office. Obama's campaign manager, David Plouffe, was Gephardt's deputy campaign manager in 2004. His head of delegate operations, Jeff Berman, played the same role for Gephardt. His national press secretary, Bill Burton, was Gephardt's Iowa press secretary. Dozens of others come from related arms of the party, in particular the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

It's a tremendous operation for a first-term senator who hadn't worked a day in Washington before 2004. But it's exactly the team you'd expect a former chief of staff to the Senate minority leader to construct. "The person most responsible for this was Pete Rouse," says Tom Daschle, sounding almost wistful. After all, Obama's campaign was in part based on plans Rouse had drawn up for Daschle in 2004, before Daschle decided to sit out the presidential race.

Put simply, there were only two Democratic power centers capable of running a national campaign in 2008: the veterans of the Clinton campaign, and the staff around the congressional leadership. Obama had the good fortune to enter office in the very year when both Tom Daschle and Dick Gephardt left office, and then he had the good fortune to land Rouse, who knew that world of staffers.

This gave Obama's campaign -- and, eventually, his White House -- a congressional character. Rahm Emanuel was subsequently plucked out of the House leadership, and legislative liaison Phil Schiliro, who is one of the leading candidates to replace Emanuel if the Rouse pick proves temporary, was taken from Rep. Henry Waxman's office.

The Obama administration has often been criticized for adopting an overly deferential approach to Congress, but it's staffed by longtime congressional hands who strongly believe that this is the right approach to take to Congress if you actually want to get anything done in it. Rouse's ascension suggests that little is likely to change in that regard.

Photo credit: White House

By Ezra Klein  | September 30, 2010; 4:00 PM ET
Categories:  Obama administration  
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Next: The consequences of Central Bank inaction


Didn't he play for the Reds?

Posted by: DDAWD | September 30, 2010 4:14 PM | Report abuse

Obama seems to need a relatively small number of close associates to advise him - whether that is a strength or not is, I guess, argueable.

What I find interesting is that Daschle's team and Gephardt's team both couldn't get their original leaders to remain active in office and politics. You might call this the team of losers or also-rans.

I've had in my mind for some time that Obama is very different from Bill Clinton in that Clinton sought out advice from all quarters and synthesized his own solutions, good and bad. Obama seems excessively drawn in the opposite direction: if you aren't in the inner circle you get ignored (hello, Paul Volker, Paul Krugman, Robert Reich, et. al.)

My main complaint with the last two years is that Obama, presumably following a mix of insider advice and his own predilections, seems to actually believe that that old definition of insanity (doing over and over again what doesn't work) is the basis for a presidential strategy. [looking for bipartisan compromise, for example, when it has been clear that there was no compromise, but only submission to bullies in the Congress that will never compromise.

Posted by: JimPortlandOR | September 30, 2010 4:38 PM | Report abuse

Ok. But just out of curiosity, is that at kippah he's wearing?

Posted by: parkerjm71 | September 30, 2010 4:52 PM | Report abuse

Does anyone want to guess where Pete Rouse went to graduate school?

The winner is HARVARD!!!!!!!!!!!

The United States of Harvard/Yale. What a great country in which we all reside!!!

What happened to diversity? This administration has got to be the most educationally pedigreed in history.

Posted by: mcljch | September 30, 2010 4:52 PM | Report abuse

Say, why did Daschle leave office? Oh yeah, he lost his election to John Thune. But hey, I'm sure another mediocre, unsuccessful centrist chief of staff is JUST what Democrats need right now.

Posted by: stonedone | September 30, 2010 5:08 PM | Report abuse

To JimPortlandOR - Ditto!

Posted by: jimg5 | September 30, 2010 5:08 PM | Report abuse

Good piece.

Posted by: Hopeful9 | September 30, 2010 5:23 PM | Report abuse

The further left Obama moves, the more divisive he is. Clinton moved to the center after he was repudiated (1994). Evidently Obama has no intention of moving to the center.

Posted by: FormerDemocrat | September 30, 2010 6:40 PM | Report abuse

To JimPortlandOR
There are many Jims in Portland Oregon, but there is only one Pete Rouse. And remember, Bill Clinton passed the legislation that kept derivatives from being regulated ... and created the gambling casino that became the US mortgage market.

Posted by: kimoray | September 30, 2010 6:53 PM | Report abuse

I see that Ezra is following the old Washington press tradition of kissing up to the new arrivals, in hopes of gaining access.

Posted by: tomtildrum | September 30, 2010 7:09 PM | Report abuse

Wow, the staffers who helped Gephardt AND Daschle accomplish nothing (in the latter's case lose his re-election). Impressive. NO mention of ANY of them ever having real jobs. This President is making me nostalgic for Jimmy Carter.

Posted by: ninja_exterminator | September 30, 2010 8:34 PM | Report abuse

Another corporacrat.

Posted by: solsticebelle | September 30, 2010 8:44 PM | Report abuse

Both Daschle and Gephardt were winners at the top of their games for years. That is why the President was interested in their experienced staffs. The fact they eventually left office does not negate their previous success.

Posted by: query0 | September 30, 2010 10:34 PM | Report abuse

Pete Rouse did some time at Harvard. He also is a grad of Colby College (undergrad) and London School of Economics. And he's anything but the typical Harvard snob.

Posted by: muleman | September 30, 2010 11:58 PM | Report abuse

Bill Clinton passed the legislation that kept derivatives from being regulated ... and created the gambling casino that became the US mortgage market.

Posted by: kimoray

Nice try, kimoray. Seems someone else was in office a whole 8 years afterward. Dems are blasted for mentioning Bush's culpability for this mess because it's been nearly two years since. But you want to skip back over all those 8 years....

Takes alotta nerve pal, and a healthy dose of blind, ignorant stupidity to boot. Go troll somewhere else.

Posted by: postgettingworse | October 1, 2010 1:08 AM | Report abuse

"The Obama campaign and Senate staff, by contrast, are full of Daschle and Gephardt veterans."

Wow. That explains a lot. Now I understand. These are guys who tried to compromise with Republicans on Republican terms, lost huge, were targeted and taken down as extremists anyway, and still haven't learned.

Posted by: chase-truth | October 1, 2010 7:50 AM | Report abuse

It's amazing that with Obama at the Nation's helm, the more things change, the more they stay the same ... mediocrity and arrogance. I've given up all hope on the Democrats. They totally lost their way when they opted for Obama over Hillary. Bad, bad, bad move.

Posted by: mpwynn | October 1, 2010 9:11 AM | Report abuse

More imporantly who is Ezra Klein?
Ezra = JournoList founder and proud member of the Obama Apologist Club coming to a Politburo meeting near you very soon

Posted by: frankensundae | October 1, 2010 12:25 PM | Report abuse

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