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Emanuel expected to bring 'tough-minded' approach to White House

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  • NEW: Rahm Emanuel will be White House chief of staff, Barack Obama says
  • Emanuel's direct style has ruffled some feathers on Capitol Hill
  • House minority leader calls pick "ironic" for candidate who ran on change
  • Emanuel is a veteran of Clinton White House, Wall Street and Congress
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By Scott J. Anderson
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(CNN) -- U.S. Rep. Rahm Emanuel will bring a "tough-minded" and "pragmatic" approach to the White House when he becomes President-elect Barack Obama's chief of staff, according to people who know the Chicago, Illinois, native.

Rep. Rahm Emanuel has experience in the White House, on Wall Street and on Capitol Hill.

Emanuel, a former top aide to President Clinton, has accepted the position in the new administration, Obama confirmed in a statement Thursday.

"I announce this appointment first because the chief of staff is central to the ability of a president and administration to accomplish an agenda," Obama said. "And no one I know is better at getting things done than Rahm Emanuel."

In the job, Emanuel would oversee the White House staff. The chief of staff is usually involved in all the major decisions that the president makes and is responsible for making sure the administration carries out the president's wishes. Video Watch Emanuel call himself "fortunate" »

The chief of staff also often is involved in negotiations with congressional leaders when major legislation is under consideration.

Jim Manley, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, called Emanuel: "An excellent choice."

"Rahm knows the Hill. And he knows the White House. He is a brilliant strategic thinker and someone who knows how to get things done," Manley said.

Manley also rejected the idea that Emanuel is a true partisan that could not work with Republicans.

"That's ridiculous. Rahm understands politics is the art of compromise. He's got a deeply held set of views but he also understands to get things done you have to compromise," he said.

After leaving the Clinton White House, Emanuel, 48, was an investment banker on Wall Street and later was elected to the House of Representatives in 2002 from a heavily Democratic Chicago district. He quickly rose to become the fourth-ranking Democrat in the House. Video Watch what Emanuel brings to the White House »

It is Emanuel's combination of experiences -- plus his strong personal relationship with Obama -- that would make him a strong chief of staff, said CNN political analyst Paul Begala, a fellow Clinton veteran.

"He has spent more time in the White House than President-elect Obama has. That matters a lot. It is a special place with its own rhythms," Begala said. See who Obama may be considering for his Cabinet »

"But, maybe most importantly, he's got the relationship. He has known Barack and Michelle Obama for a number of years."

Before reports emerged that he had accepted the position, Emanuel told WLS-TV in Chicago that he had to consider the possible impact on his family. Video Watch how Obama is starting his transition »

"I have a lot to weigh: the basis of public service, which I have given my life to, a career choice. And most importantly, what I want to do as a parent," Emanuel said in an interview that aired Wednesday.

Emanuel added: "This is not a professional choice. This is a personal choice about what my wife and I want to do for our family, as much as what to do with my career."

Emanuel's at-times blunt approach would ensure the White House runs smoothly for the new president, said Mack McLarty, Clinton's former chief of staff. Video Watch as McLarty calls Emanuel an "excellent choice" »

"Rahm is high energy. He's direct. He's a tough-minded pragmatist. So I think the years have been good to him in that regard," McLarty said. "I think the high-energy directness will serve him well.

"Rahm, like a lot of us, made mistakes, but he quickly corrected them."

However, the lawmaker's direct style has ruffled a number of feathers in Washington, and Emanuel is known as one of the toughest partisan fighters on Capitol Hill.

After reports that Emanuel had agreed to be Obama's chief of staff on Thursday, the top Republican in the House, Minority Leader John Boehner of Ohio, questioned the president-elect's pick. Election T-shirt: Obama inspires historic victory

"This is an ironic choice for a president-elect who has promised to change Washington, make politics more civil and govern from the center," Boehner said.

According to a 2006 profile of Emanuel in Fortune magazine, Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma warned his fellow Republicans of Emanuel's ferocity in a letter two years ago.

"He's dangerous," Cole told Fortune then. "He has a closing intensity. When he's got a political kill in sight, he's absolutely relentless."

But David Gergen, a CNN senior political analyst who has worked in five administrations, said the contrasting styles between Obama and Emanuel could help the new president get things done in Washington.

"They are obviously setting up a good cop/bad cop routine in the White House. ... Barack Obama can be the good guy," Gergen said. Who should be in Obama's cabinet?

Emanuel has made a career of being the tough guy.


In the 2006 Fortune profile, Begala described Emanuel's aggressive style as a "cross between a hemorrhoid and a toothache."

"I love Rahm, but that's a small group of us," he told Fortune.

CNN's Ted Barrett and Don Lemon contributed to this report.

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