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Hildebrand on Obama's New Chief

Hildebrand on Obama's New Chief


When top White House aides arrived at work Monday for their daily 7:30 a.m. meeting with the chief of staff, instead of seeing Rahm Emanuel, they were greeted by Pete Rouse, a quiet, fiercely loyal veteran of Capitol Hill who served as Barack Obama's chief of staff while he was in the Senate.

Rouse, prior to joining Obama in the Senate, had spent nearly 20 years working as South Dakota senator Tom Daschle's chief of staff, a post in which he knew and became friends with Steve Hildebrand, Obama's gay deputy campaign manager in '08.

"Pete really is one of my oldest closest friends," said Hildebrand, adding that he has collaborated with him off and on since 1986, when they first worked together on Daschle's successful Senate bid. "He's the one who hired me to run Tom Daschle's reelection in 2004; he asked me to go to Iowa with Obama in 2006 for that very first trip to the Harkin steak fry." Iowa senator Tom Harkin's annual steak fry is often used as a launching pad for Democratic presidential candidates and then-senator Barack Obama spoke there in 2006 at the outset of his campaign.

Until taking over as President Obama's interim chief of staff, Rouse had been serving alongside David Axelrod and Valerie Jarrett as one of three special advisers to the president. Hildebrand has had regular contact with Rouse since Obama took office, sometimes meeting with him or sharing a lunch as well as corresponding via e-mail and phone.

"He's someone whose ear I'm always bending on our issues," he said. "We've talked about marriage, employment nondiscrimination, 'don't ask, don't tell.' We had discussions during the health care debate -- I bend his ear often."

Hildebrand characterized Rouse as well versed in LGBT issues and a strong progressive.

"He's always provided me a strong format on LGBT issues, and certainly was an advocate from the inside during the Obama campaign and since," Hildebrand said. "I see him as an important ally, who will always be open and helpful to our community in the White House. He's also someone who's incredibly good about following through on the commitments that he makes, which is something we need more of in the community."

Still, Hildebrand said Rouse very much understands his place in the chain of command.

"I would never see him bucking a boss on a policy issue," he said.

By all accounts, Rouse is a nuts-and-bolts kind of guy who isn't particularly flashy.

"Pete always prided himself as someone who as a Senate chief of staff was not on the lunch circuit or fund-raising circuit in D.C.," Hildebrand said.

But more importantly, he added that Rouse has the complete trust and confidence of the president.

"Pete is always someone who the president will double-check his perspective with," said Hildebrand. "He's a great planner -- constantly looking ahead. He was looking at the presidential race way back in 2005-2006 as Obama's chief of staff."

How long Rouse will remain at his new post is still unclear. White House press secretary Robert Gibbs has stressed the fact that his title includes the word "interim" but has added that it does not "preclude" the possibility that Rouse could be named to the position permanently.

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