Is the resignation of Emanuel a “re-boot” of the Obama presidency?

White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel aka Rahmbo will step down to run for mayor of Chicago, various sources confirmed. He will be replaced by Deputy Chief of Staff Pete Rouse but according to CNN he will perhaps  serve only on a temporary basis.

Questions:

1. What is the legacy of Rahm Emanuel in your opinion?

2. What could bring Pete Rouse to the White House?

Answers:

David McCuan, Assistant Professor of Political Science, Sonoma State University

The announced resignation of Rahm Emanuel and the likely soon to be announced resignations of other officials such as retired General Jones, who serves as President Obama’s National Security Advisor, come just about a month away from a critical election where Democrats are likely to lose the US House and several seats in the U.S. Senate. The resignation of Emanuel is a “re-boot” of the Obama presidency as the President and his advisors attempt to adjust their staff prior to the midterm election outcome.  In this way, their hope is to hit the ground running in dealing with whatever aftermath comes with the November 2 election results. Typically staffers and Cabinet members depart after about 2 years in office, but usually AFTER a midterm election, not before.

Emanuel’s departure at this time has two effects – one longer term and the other immediate.  First, his departure and the entry of Peter Rouse, the former Chief of Staff when Obama was a U.S. Senator from Illinois, signals a return to Emanuel’s strength – exchanging one Washington insider for another.  Rouse is the consummate “Inside-the-Beltway” guy and buys the President some connections to the deal-making, transactional relationships that are the currency of DC politics.  This is the longer term, post-November 2011 and beyond effect of Emanuel’s departure and the specific pick of Rouse to replace him.

The more immediate effect, however, is more problematic for the President and his team.  With a growing restlessness and weariness about national economic conditions and an opposition galvanized to turnout heavily against the Democrats and this President, the consequence of Emanuel’s resignation is to immediately nationalize the midterm election race, drawing attention to the Obama team’s inability to recognize the economy as the centerpiece of most voters’ anger and frustration.  Laying the blame for what is likely to be strong GOP gains up and down the ballot in the midterm elections will serve as the immediate legacy of Emanuel.

The longer history and effect of Emanuel – a guy who gets the barroom, open warfare politics of Washington, D.C. and the blood and sweat called for by those politics – will not be written until 2011 and 2012 when we see if two things happen – can the President shift gears mid-stream and work with what is likely to be a Republican Congress?  How well can he do so?  And, second, can Emanuel actually win his race for Mayor of Chicago?

The legacy and success of this Administration rests on the answers to these questions.

Cal Jillson, Professor of Political Science,  Southern Methodist University

1. Rahm Emanuel’s political legacy extends back into the Clinton White House and includes management of the House campaigns in 2006 and 2008 that led to Democratic control. His Obama White House legacy is uncertain because, although he oversaw passage of the big stimulus bill and the health care reform bill, the Obama agenda worries many Americans and Democrats may take serious losses in the November legislative elections.

2. Pete Rouse is a less divisive figure than Rahm Emanuel and may be more able to manage White House/congressional relations if the Republicans take control of one or both houses of Congress in the November elections. Whether Rouse is strong enough to keep the trains running on time remains to be see.

Michael Cheney, Professor of Communication at University of Illinois at Springfield, Senior Fellow Institute of Government and Public Affairs

1. Rahm came into the White House and mixed with both political smarts and policy smarts to create the position of chief of staff that could get things through the Congress. In the first two years, President Obama needed someone who knew the Congress and could move through some key legislation. A lot of the success is due in part to Rahm’s behind the scenes work.

2. Pete Rouse has been involved with President Obama in the days before assuming office when he headed up the committee to work on the transition.  Now, as a top aide in the White House, he brings a knowledge of the issues and can serve the President for the near term.  (I would not expect him to be chief of staff once the new Congress arrives in 2011.)  Rouse is loyal to Obama and this is a way to make an orderly change and to look ahead for another chief of staff.  (Although I think the historical record would show most of them do not last more than a couple of years.)

Iva Deutchman, Professor of Politcal Science, Hobart and William Smith Colleges

From what I understand, Rahm Emanuel is leaving the White House to start his own political career, which he hopes will include being mayor of Chicago. I think he leaves behind a legacy of being strong and outspoken. But it is hardly clear to me that Emanuel deserves blame or credit for any particular thing Obama has not done (or done poorly) or accomplished. In other words, I am not sure how much someone in Emanuel’s position causes legislation to get passed or blocks it from becoming law. As for his successor, I think the immediate plan is for Rouse to come in as he’s Emanuel’s deputy. Once he is in, I don’t think he wants the position on a permanent basis, and his being there would give Obama some more time to “shop around” for someone of his (Obama’s) choice.  Emanuel’s decision to leave is obviously due to the mayor’s position opening up now.

Nicholas Cull, Professor of Public Diplomacy and Director of the Masters Program in Public Diplomacy, University of Southern California

I don’t have a view of the new guy but feel that the reputation of Emanuel will be evaluated in the months and years to come.  A lot depends on what happens in the election in November — right now the reputation of the White House is at a low and Obama is looking like a one-termer.  The issues is really whether the Republicans can field a decent candidate!

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