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Who would want to replace Rahm Emanuel?

It took about three nanoseconds after Chicago Mayor Richard Daley announced "I'm outta here" for speculation to rise on whether White House Chief of Staff and Chicago native Rahm Emanuel would run to replace him. Judging by senior adviser David Axelrod's response on the Today Show this morning -- "no one is indispensable" -- my money is on Rahm bolting the West Wing for the Windy City.

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So, who should replace Rahm Emanuel? Whoever it is will take on one helluva job, according to people at an influential left-of-center think tank I spoke with today.

The president has dismal approval ratings, which would make the job of the new chief difficult. With unpopularity comes limited power, because the White House won't and doesn't scare anyone on either side of the aisle. The miserable economy should be an overarching theme every single day until the American people actually start to feel the improvement Obama keeps saying is underway. The 2012 reelection effort would start ramping up on, oh, Nov. 3, the day after the midterm elections. That means staff departures to the reelection effort and elsewhere and also new people getting used to their new gigs in the West Wing. And if the Republicans succeed in taking the House and maybe even the Senate, the new chief of staff would have to deal with a strident and newly empowered conservative movement on Capitol Hill (subpoenas, anyone?) and around the country.

In addition to intestinal fortitude, the next chief of staff would have to be someone who knows Washington and can work with Congress. Meaning, someone known well and held in some regard on both sides of the aisle. That person ought to be someone from outside Obama's Chicago-centric inner circle but who commands their respect.

I was talked out of my first choice, Colin Powell. I thought he would be perfect. The former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and former secretary of state knows Washington. Powell, a Republican, commands respect on both sides of the aisle. Although, if the latest poll numbers become reality, the GOP side will need special care and attention. Powell is outside Obama's inner circle. He also is used to the power of the Oval Office. While he would be respectful of the occupant of the Oval, he would not be awed by the person who sits in it.

But because of Powell's role in the run-up to the Iraq War, the progressive wing of the Democratic Party would go absolutely nuts if he were chosen. Also, why on earth would he want such a thankless job? And now that she's got him off the White House hamster wheel, why on earth would Mrs. Powell want to let him go back?

So, back to the original question: Who should replace Rahm Emanuel? All roads appear to lead to two formidable people -- John Podesta, the founder of the Center for American Progress and the last chief of staff to President Clinton, and Tom Daschle, the former Senate majority leader. While Podesta is said to not be interested in the job, Daschle probably would be. Obama has leaned on and learned from Daschle. And the president wanted to make him secretary of health and human services until tax problems derailed the nomination. But there would be no stopping Daschle if Emanuel were no longer chief of staff. The position doesn't require senate confirmation.

By Jonathan Capehart  | September 8, 2010; 3:44 PM ET
Categories:  Capehart  | Tags:  Jonathan Capehart  
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