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CHICAGO (Reuters) - U.S. President-elect Barack Obama choose Rahm Emanuel as his chief of staff on Thursday, spurring Republicans to question why his first key appointment was a Washington insider and fiercely partisan Democrat.
"I announce this appointment first because the chief of staff is central to the ability of a president and administration to accomplish an agenda," said Obama, who was elected on Tuesday after campaigning on a promise to change politics in Washington. "And no one I know is better at getting things done than Rahm Emanuel."
The chief of staff position is a top White House appointee who serves as one of the closest advisers to the president and typically can decide who gains access to the president, while also developing administration policies.
Emanuel, a combative 48-year-old Democratic congressman from Illinois who is a veteran of President Bill Clinton's White House, is close to Obama and to many members of his inner circle.
Some Republicans were quick to criticize Obama for his decision, pointing out that Obama had promised to improve relations between the two parties.
"Barack Obama's first decision as President-elect undermines his promise to 'heal the divides'," said Republican National Committee spokesman Alex Conant. "Rahm Emanuel is a partisan insider who played a lead role in breaking Washington."
In his statement, Obama addressed the issue of Emanuel's experience in Washington.
"Though Rahm understands how to get things done in Washington, he still looks at the world from the perspective of his neighbors and constituents on the northwest side of Chicago, who work long and hard, and ask only that their government stand on their side and honor their values," he said.
Emanuel, who has a reputation for being a master strategist but also a highly partisan fighter in the rough world of Washington politics, said he decided to leave his position as one of the Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill because he wants to held deliver change to the United States.
He offered some words of respect for his Republican colleagues and said that though he has disagreed with them he has always respected their motives.
"Now is a time for unity, and Mr. President-elect, I will do everything in my power to help you stitch together the frayed fabric of our politics, and help summon Americans of both parties to unite in common purpose," Emanuel said in a statement.
Reporting by Deborah Charles and Richard Cowan in Washington, editing by Philip Barbara