Obama announces Emanuel as chief of staff

November 7, 2008 1:31:56 PM PST
President-elect, Barack Obama has begun to put together his White House team that includes a prominent Chicago politician. The key decisions come on the same day Obama received his first presidential daily security briefing.

It is now official. Chicago's tough-as-nails congressman, Rahm Emanuel, is taking the one job that requires that specific quality - White House chief of staff.

And another Chicagoan, political guru David Axelrod, the campaign's main architect, is reportedly joining the Obama team as the chief policy advisor.

Axelrod was good-to-go from the outset. But Emanuel needed a gut check and some heavy family consultations before he decided to give up a brilliant congressional future for a 24-7 headache.

The decision to take the toughest and most important job in the White House, even though he's a father of three young children and could eventually be speaker of the House, is apparently made this morning. But Chicago Congressman Emanuel decides to hedge, instead of confirming it, as he left his Northwest Side office to have lunch with his wife.

"My parents are alive to see their middle son have a choice in his career between being a congressman with a lot of opportunities down the road and being the chief of staff to a historic presidency at a historic time. I am very fortunate my parents are alive to see that," Emanuel said.

The confirmation came later in written statements from Obama, who says "The chief of staff is central to the ability of a president and administration to accomplish an agenda. And no one I know is better at getting things done than Rahm Emanuel."

Emanuel said, "I'm leaving a job I love to join your White House for one simple reason. Like the record amount of voters who cast their ballots over the last month, I want to do everything I can to help deliver the change America needs.

"Today, American people are working harder, earning less and paying for their bills, and we have got to turn this country around on their behalf," Emanuel said.

And his work under Obama has already begun.

"I've made a series of phone calls to both Democrat and Republican leaders to reach out. I've received a lot of calls from Democratic colleagues and Republican colleagues who could not have been nicer," Emanuel said.

Chicago Mayor Richard Daley hired Emanuel as a political fundraiser nearly 20 years ago.

"It gives president Barack Obama quite a quality chief of staff," Daley said.

Emanuel's aggressive intensity and take-no-prisoners political style earned him the nickname of "Rahm-bo." And one of the top Republicans in Congress, minority whip John Boehner, says that "This is an ironic choice for a president-elect who has promised to change Washington, make politics more civil and govern from the center."

Even a former White House colleague, Paul Begala, calls Emanuel "a cross between a hemorrhoid and a toothache." But that's not how another former Clinton staffer sees it.

"He is focused. He is disciplined. He is a workaholic," said Kevin O'Keefe, former Clinton staffer.

Terry Peterson worked with Emanuel at the Chicago Housing Authority.

"Sometimes you learn in order to get things done it takes rubbing people the wrong way," Peterson said.

"When you're dealing with the rough and tumble congress, you'll need a guy who's going to be able to dispense the carrots and at the aim time use the big stick in he needs to," said Paul Vallas, former Chicago Schools CEO.

The No. 4 Democrat in the House, Emanuel, who served as a political and policy aide in the Clinton White House before running for Congress, said he had weighed family and political considerations before accepting the new job. He will have to resign his seat.

Obama's team had not planned to announce the selection on Thursday, but word leaked earlier in the day. By afternoon, the campaign had released a joint statement.

"I have a lot to weigh: the basis of public service, which I've given my life to, a career choice. And most importantly, what I want to do as a parent," Emanuel said in an ABC7 interview aired Wednesday. "And I know something about the White House. That, I assume, is one of the reasons that President-elect Obama would like me to serve. But I also know something about what it means to a family."

As word of Emanuel's acceptance spread Thursday, Obama was meeting privately in Chicago with U.S. intelligence officials preparing him to be commander in chief and transition team leaders tasked with building his entire administration in 10 short weeks.

The president-elect planned his first public appearances since his victory for Friday.

Obama planned to stay home through the weekend, with a blackout on news announcements so that he and his staff can get some rest after a grueling campaign and the rush of their win Tuesday night. He is planning a trip to Hawaii in December to get away with his family before their move to the White House -- and to honor his grandmother, who died Sunday at her home there.

Obama began Thursday as he usually does, with a workout. Later, he planned to visit with the transition team he officially announced Wednesday but had been under way for weeks. Officials had kept deliberations under wraps to avoid the appearance of overconfidence in the weeks leading to Tuesday's election.

He also spent time at the FBI office in Chicago, a secure location for him to receive his first president's daily brief. The document is mostly written by the Central Intelligence Agency and includes the most critical overnight intelligence. It is accompanied by a briefing from top intelligence officials that typically lasts 45 minutes to an hour, although Obama's first is expected to be longer.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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