WASHINGTON White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, one of President Barack Obama's most powerful aides, plans to step down on Friday to pursue a run for Chicago mayor, sources familiar with the matter said on Thursday.
Obama was to make an announcement at a White House East Room event on Friday. White House spokesman Robert Gibbs would not confirm Emanuel was the subject of the announcement but the sources said Emanuel's announcement would come on Friday.
Pete Rouse, a senior adviser who is one of Obama's longest- serving aides, is expected to take over the chief of staff position for the time being. Gibbs would not confirm that, but said Obama would be making two announcements and he spoke warmly of Rouse.
"Pete has been with Senator-elect, Senator, President-elect and now President Obama," Gibbs told reporters. "There is a complete loyalty and trust with somebody like Pete."
White House domestic policy adviser Melody Barnes addressed the speculation during a conference in Washington, saying: "Rahm is an amazing legislative tactician."
"He also just has this wonderful energy that he brings to the work that we do. ... Should it be Pete (Rouse), or whoever it will be, will bring their own style."
Mayor Richard Daley's decision earlier this month not to seek re-election on February 22 leaves the door open for a run by Emanuel, the hard-charging former ballet dancer who has helped guide the direction of Obama's presidency.
Emanuel's path to being elected mayor in the rough-and-tumble world of Chicago politics is not an easy one, starting with the task of gathering 12,500 signatures to qualify as a candidate by November 22. A number of other challengers from Emanuel's Democratic Party are also expected to run.
Emanuel, who worked in Bill Clinton's White House in the 1990s and was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Illinois, has made no secret of his interest in the mayoral bid.
As chief of staff, the 50-year-old Chicago native has held broad sway over the White House policy strategy and even over who gets to meet with the president. Gibbs said Obama held a meeting with Emanuel at the start and end of each day.
"The title, 'chief of staff,' in many ways says it all," Gibbs said. "He has been the energetic, inspirational leader of us taking the president's promises and agenda and enacting them into law."
Rouse is likely to serve as an interim chief of staff while Obama settles on a permanent replacement. Most signs have pointed to Obama sticking with an insider, such as deputy national security adviser Tom Donilon or Vice President Joe Biden's chief of staff, Ron Klain.
Emanuel's departure will leave a hole in the close-knit White House team and likely mark the start of what many Obama watchers expect will be a staff shake-up after the November 2 congressional elections.
Obama is likely to face a different political landscape when the next Congress begins in January, and if the Republicans win at least one chamber, it will test his leadership and set the stage for his expected 2012 re-election campaign.
Republicans will doubtless increase their numbers and could be in charge of the House of Representatives and even the Senate. That would increase pressure on Obama to take more centrist positions and allow Republicans a greater voice in governing.
(Additional reporting by Patricia Zengerle and Kevin Drawbaugh; Editing by Peter Cooney)