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Rahm Emanuel Gets Warm Send Off from Obama

Barack Obama, Rahm Emanuel
President Barack Obama listens as his outgoing Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel announces that he will be stepping down to run for Mayor of Chicago, during an event in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Friday, Oct. 1, 2010. Obama announced that Pete Rouse will be interim Chief of Staff. AP Photo/Susan Walsh

Updated at 12:55 p.m. ET

President Obama gave his chief of staff Rahm Emanuel a heartfelt send-off today, praising Emanuel for his work in the White House and allowing him to essentially kick off his campaign for mayor of Chicago in front of a room full of national media.

Calling it the "least suspenseful announcement of all time," Mr. Obama said today that Emanuel is leaving the White House to return to Chicago, although he did not expressly say Emanuel would be running for mayor.

"We are all very excited for Rahm as he takes on a new challenge for which he is extraordinarily well qualified," the president said.

Emanuel, getting slightly choked up, thanked the president for the opportunity to serve the country and said he was excited to return to Chicago -- "the greatest city in the greatest country in the world." These are exciting times in Chicago, Emanuel said, noting that the Chicago Bears have a record of 3-0.

Mr. Obama announced, as expected, that White House senior adviser Peter Rouse will take Emanuel's place as chief of staff. Rouse is a formidable legislative strategist who spent more than 30 years on the Hill and could help the White House repair relations with Republicans in Congress, CBS News White House correspondent Chip Reid reports.

"There is a saying around the White House: 'Let's let Pete fix it.' And he does." Mr. Obama said to laughter. "Pete's known as a problem solver, and the good news for him is we have plenty of problems to solve."

Speculation mounted that Emanuel would leave the White House to run for mayor earlier this month, immediately after Chicago Mayor Richard Daley announced he would not seek re-election next year. Emanuel, a Chicago native and a former representative of Illinois' fifth district, had expressed interest in running for mayor in the past, but said he would not challenge Daley.

Emanuel will be a formidable candidate thanks to his fundraising ability, $1.2 million war chest left over from his time in Congress, and ability to attract top-level staffers and intense media coverage. But he will also be hampered by his current outsider status in Chicago as well as the less-than-warm feeling he engenders among many potentially-pivotal voting blocks.

The president and White House senior adviser David Axelrod have both said Emanuel would be a great mayor. There are, however, a number of other legitimate potential candidates, and Rep. Luis Gutierrez -- one of Emanuel's possible challengers -- has been a critic of the White House chief of staff.

On top of that, the liberal group the Progressive Change Campaign Committee is already mobilizing opposition to Emanuel because of his reported opposition to the public option during the health care debate.

"Rahm Emanuel has been one of the chief voices telling the Democratic Party to cave instead of fighting -- even when voters overwhelmingly supported progressive positions like the public option and breaking up the big banks," PCCC co-founder Adam Green said today. "Now, we have Rahm Emanuel right where we want him -- on the ballot, where he can be thoroughly rejected by voters."

Green went on to say Emanuel's departure offers Mr. Obama a "golden opportunity" to fight for the change voters called for in 2008.

While the left may not be happy with Emanuel, the president said today that he played an essential role in the White House's accomplishments.

"It's fair to say we could not have accomplished what we accomplished without Rahm's leadership," he said.

Mr. Obama added that at as he entered the White House, he knew there was no better person to serve as chief of staff. "I knew that I needed somebody at my side who I could count on day and night to help get the job done," he said.

The Republican National Committee, meanwhile, criticized the White House for Emanuel's ceremonial departure, which they called a "breathtaking display in tone-deafness."

"The East Room ceremony demonstrated the Obama's White House obsession with... itself," RNC spokesperson Doug Heye said in a statement. "Instead of talking about jobs and the economy, we got a self-congratulating pep rally."

Watch Politics Daily and Chicago Sun-Times' Lynn Sweet chat with CBS News' Bill Plante on "Washington Unplugged" about Rahm Emanuel's exit:

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White House Staff Gives Rahm Emanuel Dead Fish as Parting Gift
Rahm Emanuel Out, Pete Rouse In - But Don't Expect Much to Change at the White House
Rahm Emanuel WH Departure to Become Official
Pete Rouse, Insider's Insider, Replacing Emanuel
The Inside Scoop on Rahm Emanuel
Former Bush Chief of Staff on Emanuel's Exit
60 Minutes: Katie Couric Interviews Rahm Emanuel