Peter Rouse, Obama’s new chief of staff will bring a softer rhetorical style 

Now that Rahm Emanuel, the hard-charging liberal former congressman from Illinois has left the Obama White House for parts unknown all eyes are on his replacement as chief of staff, Peter Rouse.

The general consensus is that Rouse, whose position is said to be temporary until after the November election, is equally as well-connected as Emanuel but far less pugnacious.

Both, according to veteran Chicago Sun-Times reporter Lynn Sweet are primarily interested in the art of the possible, at least when it comes to enabling President Obama’s agenda. Considering that Emanuel was not able to dissuade Obama from cramming his now-unpopular health insurance bill through the Senate, it will be interesting to see to what degree Rouse attempts to rein in Obama’s many highly ideological top staffers.

Rouse is also press-shy. He wasn’t even present at the White House when the president announced his appointment.

He’s also being touted by the White House as a “fixer,” a person who can solve difficult situations. In a rare moment of self-deprecation, even Obama admitted this: “The good news is that we have plenty of problems to solve,” he said.

In this New York Times profile of Rouse, there are two good examples of him living up to the fixer reputation:

When Mr. Obama’s plan to close the detention center at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, went awry, setting off an uproar on the left, he installed Mr. Rouse to oversee the policy. In the months since, the furor seems to have evaporated, though the detention center remains open.

When Republicans rose up against the appointment of Elizabeth Warren, a Harvard professor, to oversee a new consumer protection agency, Mr. Rouse helped devise a strategy that ended with the president appointing Ms. Warren as a top-level adviser — a position that needed no Senate confirmation.

That style was likely cultivated during his time working as a top aide to former Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle who was very politically effective with a similar style as he opposed then-president George W. Bush’s agenda without drawing too much attention to himself.

One has to imagine that this will be a new strategic tack for the administration. For most of his presidency, Obama and his staff have rarely hesitated to blast Republicans, businesses, journalists and a host of other entities deemed insufficiently supportive of Obama’s policies.

A softer rhetorical approach harkening back to Obama’s post-partisan campaign image and Daschle’s continually “dismayed” style  is likely to be more effective in the coming months, especially if Republicans manage to take control of one or both chambers of Congress. That will bring more pressure to come up with their own legislation which means more intra-Republican arguments and an opportunity for the White House  as the eventual Republican policies will be front-and-center and more easily attacked as unreasonable and extreme.

Personally, Rouse has another thing in common with two other high-profile Obama appointees, Supreme Court justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan: he’s unmarried and lives alone.

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Matthew Sheffield

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