Moving quickly, Obama asks fellow Chicagoan to head staff

McClatchy NewspapersNovember 5, 2008 

US NEWS CVN-DEMOCRATS 93 SA

Rep. Rahm Emanuel at the Democratic National Convention in August 2008.

BRIAN BAER — Brian Baer / Sacramento Bee / MCT

CHICAGO — President-elect Barack Obama has asked Rep. Rahm Emanuel, D-Ill., a member of the House of Representatives leadership team and a former Clinton White House adviser, to be his White House chief of staff, aides on Capitol Hill and other Democratic insiders said Wednesday, as Obama quickly began the transition into office.

Neither Emanuel's staff nor Obama's would confirm the offer. Three Democratic insiders who are familiar with the offer — each speaking on the condition that they not be identified because they weren't authorized by the Obama team or by Emanuel to discuss the developments — said that while Emanuel was seriously considering the job, it was their understanding as of late Wednesday afternoon that he hadn't yet accepted it.

Obama's appointments of secretaries of the treasury and defense, national security adviser and other posts are anticipated soon, perhaps by the end of this week, but none was announced Wednesday.

Possible secretary of state picks include Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., retiring Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., and Democratic New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson.

At the Pentagon, there's been discussion about Defense Secretary Robert Gates staying on for some months, although it's unclear whether he's willing to do so. Former Navy Secretary Richard Danzig, a top Obama adviser, also has been mentioned for defense chief.

A possible pick for White House national security adviser is James Steinberg, who was President Clinton's deputy national security adviser.

The day after his historic election, Obama didn't brief reporters, instead huddling privately with advisers and speaking via teleconference to thank his campaign staffers across the country, according to a spokeswoman, Jen Psaki. Those remarks weren't made public.

Obama advisers also formally announced some details of the Obama-Biden Transition Project. It's being organized as a 501(c)(4) group, headquartered in a large government office space in downtown Washington, although Obama is expected to name appointees in Chicago in the coming days and weeks.

The transition is being overseen by three people: John Podesta, a former chief of staff to Clinton and the president of the Center for American Progress, a liberal policy-research center in Washington; Valerie Jarrett of Chicago, an Obama friend and campaign adviser; and Pete Rouse, Obama's Senate chief of staff. The transition team also announced a 12-member advisory board.

President Bush made a morning statement in the White House Rose Garden congratulating Obama on his victory and pledging that "he can count on complete cooperation from my administration as he makes the transition to the White House."

As the fourth-ranking Democrat in the Democratic-controlled House, Emanuel was weighing whether to scrap a potential path to the House speakership against service to the country on behalf of the first black president. They both call Chicago home.

A respected political tactician with a reputation for ruthlessness, Emanuel could offer Obama, a relative Washington newcomer, an insider's knowledge of the levers of power. As a highly partisan and often abrasive figure, however, Emanuel also could detract symbolically from Obama's promise to move beyond partisanship and unite Democrats and Republicans.

In addition to advising Clinton, Emanuel, who was first elected to Congress in 2002, previously worked for Illinois Public Action, a consumer rights group; Paul Simon's Senate campaign; Chicago Mayor Richard Daley; and as the managing director of an investment bank. He led the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in 2006, when Democrats gained control of the House.

(David Lightman and Warren P. Strobel in Washington contributed to this report.)

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