WASHINGTON (CN) – President Obama bid farewell to outgoing White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel at an emotional press conference Friday, calling the departure “bittersweet.” Emanuel, who is expected to run for mayor of Chicago, will be replaced temporarily by Senior White House Adviser Pete Rouse.
“I will miss him dearly,” Obama said to a group of White House staff and cabinet members gathered in the East Room of the White House. “For nearly two years I’ve begun my workday with Rahm. I’ve ended my workday with Rahm.”
Obama said Emanuel had “exceeded all my expectations,” adding that the administration’s accomplishments, including heading off a depression and passing health care and financial reform, would not have been possible without him.
Obama said that, as president, he gets both the credit and the blame for what happens in the country, and while he “happily” accepts the blame, the credit is due to his staff and cabinet members. He said he was “particularly proud and grateful” of Emanuel’s service.
A host of cabinet members were in attendance, including Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.
Obama acknowledged Emanuel’s famously caustic tone, saying, “A couple of years ago, I pointed out that Rahm when he was a kid had lost part of his finger in an accident, and it was his middle finger, so it rendered him mute for awhile.”
Emanuel also addressed the famous personality trait in his remarks, telling his colleagues, “I’m sure you’ve heard some words you’ve never heard before, and in an assortment of combinations,” evoking laughter.
Emanuel gave a nod to Chicago, telling Obama he wanted to “make our hometown even greater.”
“These are unprecedented and great times in Chicago, Mr. President. The Chicago Bears are 3-0.”
He also said he was privileged to work with Obama on an intimate stage, getting a chance to see “the man of quiet, committed faith who always appeals to the better angels of our nature.”
Emanuel fought back tears as he talked about his family immigrating to the United States to seek opportunity and his mother marching with Martin Luther King for civil rights.
“I give you my word that even as I leave the White House, I will never leave that spirit of service behind,” he said.
Obama welcomed Rouse, “one of my closest and most essential advisers,” to serve as interim adviser.
Rouse worked as top aide to former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle and was nicknamed the “101st senator.”
“There is a saying around the White House, ‘Let’s let Pete fix it.’ And he does,” Obama said.
“He’s a real pro,” Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood told reporters of Rouse before the conference began. “His job is to make sure the trains run around here. He’ll make sure the trains are running on time.”
As for Emanuel, “He’ll be missed,” said Senior White House Adviser David Axelrod.
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