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
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