Who is Pete Rouse? He's not Rahm Emanuel

The president's new chief of staff Pete Rouse, hailed by Obama as a 'skillful problem-solver,' is a Washington veteran known for working quietly behind the scenes and avoiding the media.

Jim Young/Reuters
President Obama (r.) thanks outgoing White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel (l.) as Emanuel's interim successor Pete Rouse looks on in the East Room at the White House in Washington Oct. 1. Emanuel is stepping down to run for mayor of Chicago.

Pete Rouse, President Obama’s new chief of staff, is a classic Washington denizen: He worked on Capitol Hill for more than 30 years before coming to the White House. His Rolodex is full of bold-faced names, including many who have worked for him over the years. He knows how to get things done.

But to most people, the 64-year-old Mr. Rouse would go unrecognized if they passed him on the street. In contrast to the high-octane departing chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, Rouse goes about his business quietly, solving problems behind the scenes, avoiding the limelight and the media. Don’t look for him on “Meet the Press” anytime soon.

For Mr. Obama, the promotion of Rouse, at least temporarily, represents a thread of continuity at a time of political transition, just a month before midterm elections in which Democrats are expected to take a drubbing. Rouse has been at Obama’s side since his election to the Senate in 2004, serving as his chief of staff and helping him learn Washington – and, with time, crafting a plan to run for president.

“I am very fortunate to be able to hand the baton to my wise, skillful, and longtime counselor Pete Rouse,” Obama said in an East Room sendoff for Mr. Emanuel, who is returning to Chicago to run for mayor.

“Many of you remember Pete as the top aide to then-Senate majority leader Tom Daschle,” Obama continued. “Pete was affectionately known as the 101st senator. From the moment I became a US senator, he has been one of my closest and most essential advisers. He was my chief of staff in the Senate, he helped orchestrate and advise my presidential campaign, he has served as one of my senior advisers here at the White House. And In that role, he has taken on a series of management and legislative challenges with his customary clarity and common purpose.”

Rouse is credited, for example, with coming up with the compromise that ended with Obama naming Elizabeth Warren as a presidential adviser to help establish a new consumer watchdog agency. Ms. Warren, a Harvard law professor, is a favorite of liberals but a lightning rod for conservatives, and as a presidential appointee, she avoided the Senate confirmation process.

“There’s a saying around the White House, ‘Let’s let Pete fix it,’ ” Obama said to laughter. “And he does. Pete’s known as a skillful problem-solver, and the good news for him is that we have plenty of problems to solve. “

Rouse, predictably, stood further off to the side than Emanuel as Obama spoke, and did not himself address the crowd after the president’s introduction.

In addition to working for former Senator Daschle of South Dakota for 19 years, Rouse also worked briefly for Sen. Dick Durbin (D) of Illinois, ex-Sen. James Abourezk (D) of South Dakota, and former Lt. Gov. Terry Miller of Alaska.

Mr. Miller is the only Republican Rouse has worked for, telling the newspaper Roll Call in 2004, “I am more interested in what people stand for and what my philosophical compatibility is. I have found only one Republican. All the rest of them have been Democrats.”

Rouse’s mother grew up in Alaska.

Among the well-known Democrats who have worked for Rouse over the years, before Obama’s presidential victory, names include think tank director John Podesta, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs, White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer, and White House counsel Bob Bauer.

A native of New Haven, Conn., Rouse is a graduate of Colby College in Waterville, Maine, and earned graduate degrees from the London School of Economics and Harvard University’s Kennedy School. He is not married, and lives alone in Northwest Washington with his two Maine coon cats.

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