Rahm Emanuel gave an emotional goodbye speech at the White House Friday, in an unusually elevated setting for a top administration aide that drew immediate criticism from conservatives and liberals.
Emanuel spoke in the ornate White House East Room to a seated audience that included the president’s Cabinet secretaries. President Obama stood next to him, along with Emanuel’s replacement, senior adviser Pete Rouse.
Emanuel, who hinted at his plans to run for Mayor of Chicago, spent most of his short speech thanking and paying tribute to Obama.
“Mr. President I thought I was tough,” he said. “I want to thank you for being the toughest leader any country could ask for in the toughest times any president has ever faced.”
Emanuel choked up as he spoke about his immigrant grandfather and the opportunities afforded him here in the U.S.
He also thanked his colleagues for their patience with his hard-charging style and joked about his well-known penchant for profanity.
“I’m sure you’ve learned some words that you’ve never heard before, and an assortment of a combination of words,” he said to laughter.
But the unprecedented sendoff for a member of the White House staff drew criticism from both sides of the aisle.
Faiz Shakir, a senior staffer at the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank in Washington, wrote on his Twitter feed that the White House’s staging sent the wrong message about what is valuable in an aide to the president.
“I’m against public press confs of staff departures. Staff shouldn’t feel like they’re deserving of same spotlight as POTUS,” Shakir wrote.
Doug Heye, spokesman for the Republican National Committee, called the Rahm sendoff “a breathtaking display in tone-deafness.”
“The East Room ceremony demonstrated the Obama’s White House obsession with…itself. Instead of talking about jobs and the economy, we got a self-congratulating pep rally,” Heye wrote in an e-mail to The Daily Caller. “This Administration is the Sally Field of White Houses. They like themselves, they really like themselves. The rest of America? Not so much.”
Ed Gillespie, who was political adviser to former President George W. Bush during his last two years in the White House, said the event was all about helping Emanuel run for mayor.
“It wasn’t a departure, it was a launch,” Gillespie told TheDC. “I guess they figured as long as they’ve turned the White House press podium into an adjunct of the DNC, why not use the East Room for campaign events?”
Obama thanked Emanuel, who has been pilloried by the liberal wing of the Democratic Party, and called him “a great friend.”
“Rahm has exceeded all of my expectations,” Obama said. “We could not have accomplished what we have accomplished without Rahm’s leadership.”
Obama also gave an implicit endorsement to Emanuel’s mayoral candidacy, calling him “extraordinarily well qualified” for the job.
Rouse was Obama’s chief of staff in his Senate office before he became president, and is Emanuel’s stylistic opposite. Whereas Emanuel is loud and larger than life, Rouse keeps a distinctly low profile and is guaranteed to bring a different tone to the West Wing.
“Pete has never seen a microphone or a TV camera that he likes,” Obama joked.
As if to illustrate the distinct difference between him and Emanuel, Rouse did not make any remarks.
But Obama said Rouse will be just as effective as Emanuel in getting things done.
“There is a saying around the White House: ‘Let’s let Pete fix it.’ And he does,” Obama said. “And the good news for him is that we have plenty of problems to solve.”