President Barack Obama bade a formal farewell on Friday to his chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, crediting him with helping to move the White House agenda forward during his time in the job. Emanuel, who leaves to pursue a possible run for mayor of Chicago, appeared with the president and a top Obama aide who is replacing him, in the White House East Room.
Known for an aggressive and combative style in politics and the way he managed White House operations, Emanuel's departure was long expected, with President Obama jokingly calling it the "least suspenseful announcement of all time."
Rather than choosing the White House Rose Garden for a formal farewell, President Obama held it in the East Room, usually reserved for signing ceremonies for legislation, and major news conferences with visiting heads of state.
Mr. Obama noted that he began and ended each work day by meeting with Emanuel, who he called an "incomparable leader" of the White House staff, and someone he counted on while tackling issues ranging from wars, to the troubled U.S. economy, and health care reform.
"I knew that I needed somebody at my side who I could count on day and night to help get the job done," he said. "In my mind there was no candidate for the job of chief of staff who would meet the bill as well as Rahm Emanuel."
With his two daughters, son and wife looking on, Emanuel praised Mr. Obama as a tough leader in troubled times who faced challenges with grace, intelligence and courage.
"You had the guts to make the tough calls that stopped the [economic] free fall, and saved our country from a second Great Depression," he said. "You have taken on some of the most powerful interests in this town to stand up for the American people, and you have been willing to challenge the worn out ideas and the stale thinking that often stands in the way of progress."
While not a member of the Cabinet, the White House chief of staff is one of the most powerful players in Washington, helping to set the presidential agenda, manage his schedule and determine who has access to the president.
Emanuel's departure comes at a pivotal point in the Obama presidency. The president and his Democratic party face the possibility of losing majority control of Congress in midterm elections early next month.
In contrast to Emanuel's hard-charging style, new interim chief of staff, Pete Rouse, has been described as being more methodical, someone who while remaining largely in the background, wielded major influence in day to day operations.
Mr. Obama praised Rouse as wise and skillful, saying he will help guide the White House in the next phase of the Obama administration. "Pete is known as a skillful problem solver, and the good news for him is that we have plenty of problems to solve," he said.
Of particular interest in a city addicted to politics will be what kind of changes Rouse may bring where relations with Congress are concerned, and specifically with Democrats who voiced concern about White House management and responsiveness.
In bidding farewell to Emanuel, President Obama stopped short of endorsing him for mayor of Chicago, though the president had said previously that he thought Emanuel would be an excellent mayor if he chose to run.
There was emotion in Friday's event, as Emanuel suppressed tears while speaking about his family's immigrant background, and the sacrifices his wife and children made to allow him to serve the president.
There was also humor, as Emanuel mentioned his temperament, and the president joked about the different styles of his now former, and his new interim chief of staff.