WASHINGTON White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel has yet to decide whether he will leave to run for mayor of Chicago, administration officials said on Wednesday, as speculation mounted he could step down as early as October.
Emanuel, President Barack Obama's right-hand man who has long expressed interest in the Chicago job, has left little doubt he may resign to enter the race to replace longtime Mayor Richard Daley, who is retiring.
But White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said Emanuel was still "in the process of thinking about what he's going to do next."
"I'm not aware that he's made any decisions. The president is not aware that he's made any decisions."
News reports on Wednesday said Emanuel was likely to step down -- or was at least considering such a move -- before U.S. congressional elections on November 2.
"I'm not going to rule anything in or anything out," Gibbs said aboard Air Force One on the way to New York, when asked if he could exclude the chance of Emanuel leaving in October. "He's in the process of thinking through what's best for Rahm."
CNN, citing people close to Emanuel, said there was now a "good chance" he would resign as soon as October.
Obama said on September 9 that Emanuel would make a "terrific" mayor, but that his aide was expected to wait until after the November 2 elections to decide.
Emanuel's post gives him influence in shaping Obama's legislative priorities with Congress. He also oversees White House staff and effectively determines who gets to see the president.
Gibbs said in a Reuters interview on Monday that he expected Emanuel to make a decision "relatively soon."
Asked whether there was any contingency planning if Emanuel opted to leave soon, Gibbs told reporters on Wednesday, "If there is somebody to replace, we'll be ready."
Obama adviser Pete Rouse would be widely expected to step in on an interim basis. Among those mentioned as possible replacements are Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett, deputy national security adviser Tom Donilon, Ron Klain, Vice President Joe Biden's chief of staff, and White House Counsel Robert Bauer
Obama's interest in keeping Emanuel as a key strategist at least until the November elections could reflect concern about his Democratic Party's dimming prospects in the face of voter anxiety over high unemployment and a troubled economy.
But Emanuel may be feeling pressure. If he decides to run, he has until November 22 to file for the February 22 election. He would also need to organize a campaign and start raising funds.
Known for his political acumen, aggressive style and expletive-laced language, he represented a Chicago district in the U.S. House of Representatives before joining Obama's team.
(Reporting by Matt Spetalnick and Steve Holland; Editing by Peter Cooney)