"Welcome to the least suspenseful announcement of all time," President Obama said as he took the podium in the White House's East Room, flanked by Rahm Emanuel and Pete Rouse.
"As almost all of you have reported, my chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, has informed me that he will be leaving his post today to explore"--Obama paused and gave the audience a knowing look --"other opportunities. This is a bittersweet day here at the White House. On the one hand, we are all very excited for Rahm as he takes on a new challenge for which he is extraordinarily qualified. But we are also losing an incomparable leader of our staff and one we are going to miss very much."
At no point during the announcement did Obama or Emanuel directly mention Emanuel's mayoral campaign in Chicago, though they referenced it obliquely many times. Rahm grinned throughout Obama's remarks and as he expressed his excitement to head home to Chicago. "I'm eager to see what I can do to make our hometown even greater," Emanuel said. "These are unprecedented and great times in Chicago, Mr. President--the Chicago Bears are 3 and 0."
Both men made the usual Rahm cracks--Obama telling the story of Rahm's injured middle finger rendering him "mute," and Emanuel telling his colleagues, "I'm sure you've learned some words you didn't know before, and an assortment of words."
Obama expressed deep gratitude to Emanuel, thanking him for bringing "an unmatched level of energy and enthusiasm and commitment to every single thing that he does. ... Rahm has been a great friend of mine and will continue to be a great friend of mine. He is a selfless public servant and an outstanding chief of staff. I will miss him dearly, as will members of my staff and cabinet with whom he's worked so well."
Emanuel thanked Obama for "being the toughest leader any country could ask for in the toughest times any president has ever faced." When he spoke of his father and grandfather emigrating to the U.S. "for opportunity" and seeding in him the obligation to give back to the community, Emanuel choked up. "I give you my word that even as I leave the White House, I will never leave that spirit of service behind."
Standing significantly farther to Obama's left than Emanuel was to his right was an uncomfortable-looking Pete Rouse, who's stepping in as the interim chief of staff. Rouse, a longtime Obama aide, did not address the audience, though Obama and Emanuel praised him extensively.
"There's a saying around the White House," Obama said. "'Let's let Pete fix it.' And he does. Pete's known as a skillful problem solver, and the good news for him is that we have plenty of problems to solve. I am extraordinarily grateful to him. I look forward very much to working with him in this new role."
Obama joked that Emanuel and Rouse have "slightly different styles." After telling the Rahm middle finger story, Obama said that "Pete has never seen a microphone or TV camera that he likes."
As Rouse winced in front of the avidly snapping White House press corps, this seemed plausible.
"And yet, there's something in common here," Obama said. "As president of the United States, you get both the credit and the blame for what happens around here. The blame is usually deserved, or ... at least you know it's part of the job. But the credit really goes to the men and women who work in this building. It goes to people like Rahm and Pete."