Pete Rouse is the anti-Rahm.
If Rahm Emanuel, the colorful, profane, in-your-face White House chief of staff, has loomed large over Washington politics, Mr. Rouse, whom President Obama has chosen as Mr. Emanuel’s temporary replacement, does his best to loom small.
Mr. Emanuel relishes repartee with reporters; Mr. Rouse avoids it. Mr. Emanuel’s penchant for four-letter words is legendary; one friend of Mr. Rouse’s says that in 35 years, he has never heard him swear. The high-octane Mr. Emanuel bullies; Mr. Rouse, low-key and lumbering, soothes.
But while he keeps a low profile outside the White House, the 64-year-old Mr. Rouse plays an influential role within it, a role that dates from his days running Mr. Obama’s Senate office, when he was the Washington insider teaching a newcomer the ropes. Since moving with Mr. Obama to the White House as a senior adviser to the president — a title that puts him on a tier with two better-known aides, Valerie Jarrett and David Axelrod — he has remained extraordinarily close to the president.
Inside the administration, he operates as Mr. Obama’s fixer.
“He puts fires out,” said Tom Daschle, who employed Mr. Rouse as a chief of staff when he was the Senate Democratic leader. “He’s the primary personnel negotiator. There’s constant friction, and he reduces the friction. There’s a constant need for somebody to do something for which there is no job description. He is that person.”
When Mr. Obama’s plan to close the detention center at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, went awry, setting off an uproar on the left, he installed Mr. Rouse to oversee the policy. In the months since, the furor seems to have evaporated, though the detention center remains open.
When Republicans rose up against the appointment of Elizabeth Warren, a Harvard professor, to oversee a new consumer protection agency, Mr. Rouse helped devise a strategy that ended with the president appointing Ms. Warren as a top-level adviser — a position that needed no Senate confirmation.
As Mr. Daschle’s chief of staff, Mr. Rouse was often known as the “101st senator” for his close ties to senators of both parties. When Mr. Daschle lost his election in 2004, many of Mr. Rouse’s friends expected him to retire from government work.
Instead, Mr. Obama sought his help, and he went to work for the new senator from Illinois as chief of staff. He also took pains to find jobs for all the young people who had worked for him in the Daschle office; a number work for Mr. Obama today, and they are fiercely loyal to Mr. Rouse.
“The president trusts Pete as much as anyone in the White House,” said one of those former Daschle aides, Dan Pfeiffer, now Mr. Obama’s communications director.
Intensely private, Mr. Rouse is unmarried and lives alone in northwest Washington with his two cats. (He is a big cat person, friends say.) He is not given to socializing; when Mr. Daschle hosted a huge staff reunion just before he left the Senate, Mr. Rouse did not show. He is also a huge music buff; in 2008, he persuaded the surviving members of the Grateful Dead to reunite and campaign for Mr. Obama.
Although he has spent much of his career in Washington, Mr. Rouse, a native of New Haven, worked early in his career in South Dakota and also in Alaska, where he was chief of staff to that state’s lieutenant governor, Terry Miller, from 1979 to 1983. Sarah Palin, Alaska’s former governor, has sent unflattering Twitter messages about Mr. Rouse in the past week.
“Alaska’s Pete Rouse (@ least he claims to be “Alaska”) finally comes out of the shadows,” she wrote in one message. “Obama looks to appt him COS; strange doings in the WH.”