Rahm Emanuel's early departure from the Obama administration, as he escapes the West Wing to pursue his dream job of running the Windy City, means that staid Washington is losing one of the most colorful and controversial politicians it has seen in a generation.
Notoriously brusque and armed with a sailor's vocabulary, Emanuel displayed a sharp-elbowed talent for offending those on both sides of the ideological spectrum.
Conservatives despised Emanuel's cold-blooded efficiency in driving home the president's landmark healthcare reforms — legislation that Emanuel literally begged the president not to pursue for fear it would derail the rest of his agenda, according to Newsweek's Jonathan Alter.
But Emanuel, nicknamed "Rahmbo" for his take-no-prisoners demeanor, was equally vilified by the Democratic left, which blamed Emanuel's pragmatic willingness to cut deals for costing them an opportunity to remake America in George Soros' image.
Obama praised Emanuel effusively in his brief address announcing the much-rumored departure on Friday, suggesting that his key aide had helped saved the country from a second Great Depression.
"I knew I needed someone at my side I could count on day and night to get the job done," Obama said, recalling the early days of his administration. "In my mind, there was no candidate for the job of chief of staff who would meet the bill as well as Rahm Emanuel. That's why I told him he had no choice in the matter. He wasn't allowed to say no."
After Obama thanked Emanuel for his service, the two shared a warm embrace in front of the TV cameras.
Now Pete Rouse, the president's chief of staff when he served in the U.S. Senate, will step in to provide what is expected to be a more sedate approach to running the White House.
But for better or for worse, the White House will be a less lively place than it was with "Rahmbo" at the helm. Among his more memorable, and even bizarre, moments:
• In his younger days, the ever-intense Emanuel was a bit over the top. Wall Street Journal congressional reporter Naftali Bendavid reported that, the night Bill Clinton was elected president in 1992 Emanuel, seated with other campaign staffers at a dining table, picked up a knife and recited the names of different political figures who had opposed Clinton. After each name he would cry out "Dead Man!" and stabbed the knife into the table.
• Emanuel proved himself such a prodigious fundraiser during Clinton's 1992 campaign that Clinton later remarked, "I doubt we could have done it without him.”
• The Times of London reported that, during the Clinton administration, before a news conference, Emanuel once told then-British Prime Minister Tony Blair: "This is important. Don't f*** it up."
• The most infamous Emanuel story is probably the time he wrapped a dead fish and mailed it to a pollster who was late delivering results to him. It was reminiscent of a mobster scene in "The Godfather." On Friday morning as he bid a tearful farewell to his staff, Emanuel was presented with a dead Asian carp, an invasive species threatening Chicago and Lake Michigan. White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs quipped: "In Chicago, this is how friends say goodbye."
• In 2005, at a celebrity charity roast, Obama observed that Emanuel had lost part of his middle finger as a teenager working at a fast-food restaurant. Obama quipped: "As a result of this, it rendered him practically mute."
• Emanuel studied ballet as a youngster. Obama also joked at that event that his future chief of staff was "the first to adapt Machiavelli's 'The Prince' to dance. It was an intriguing piece, as you can imagine, with a lot of kicks below the waist."
• As then-head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, Emanuel played a central role in the 2006 Democratic takeover of Congress. He achieved that feat by muscling out weaker Democratic candidates in favor of moderate blue-dog Democrats, whose politics were more in tune with voters in conservative districts. It wasn't the last time Emanuel would part ways with his party's ideologues.
• Even before Obama took office, while addressing a conference of business leaders, Emanuel made a remark that the administration would regret. "You never let a serious crisis go to waste," he said. Soon "never letting a serious crisis go to waste" became the surreptitious motive assigned to every Obama initiative.
• Emanuel could be charming as well as short-tempered. He once famously told the Chicago Tribune: "I wake up some mornings hating me, too."
• At times, the former Illinois congressman, who trains in triathlons, was a real lifesaver. A few months into the administration, while working out in the White House gym, he rendered emergency aid to Rep. Pete Olson, R-Texas, who passed out cold while exercising. Emanuel was among the first to reach Olson, and waited by his side until EMS personnel arrived. (Olson later had surgery to install a pacemaker.)
• No one intimidated Emanuel — not even the United Auto Workers union. According to former auto czar Steven Rattner, during the administration's overhaul of the auto industry Emanuel was warned that tens of thousands of autoworkers' jobs could hang in the balance. The implication: The auto workers' union would be very angry if anything affected them. Emanuel's heated response, according to Rattner: "F*** the UAW!" The White House denied that account, but it was just another nail in his coffin as far as progressives were concerned.
• The New York Times reported that Steny Hoyer, the House majority leader, once phoned the chief of staff. Emanuel barked he was too busy, and then handed the phone to President Obama.
• Emanuel is renowned for his energetic, driven manner, but the marathon battle over healthcare reform took something out of him. Insiders could always tell when he was exhausted, they said, because he would drop fewer F-bombs. "When he's actually tired, you don't hear all the cursing," a Senate staffer told Politico.
• On Friday, after the president gave Emanuel a nationwide platform from which to launch his mayoral campaign, Emanuel proclaimed: "These are great and unprecedented times in Chicago, Mr. President. The Chicago Bears are 3-0."
• Emanuel always tried to maintain his tough-guy facade. But on Friday, when it was time to bid his White House staff farewell, he reportedly got teary-eyed. "I know that I pushed you all very hard," he told his staff, according to according to NBC Chicago. "But I did it in service to the president, and I believe that our whole country is better off for it."
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