David Axelrod wouldn't confirm widespread reports today that White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel is leaving the position Friday to run for mayor of Chicago, but President Obama's senior aide did appear to give Emanuel his blessing.
Running a large city takes a "larger-than-life figure" who can take on tough problems, Axelrod told an audience during the Washington Ideas Forum at the Newseum in Washington, and Emanuel possesses those traits, he said.
"He has all the tools to be a great mayor," he said. "I have no doubt about that."
Axelrod, himself a Chicago resident, said anyone who runs has to earn the right to be the next mayor -- it won't be handed to them. Emanuel understands this, he said.
"A mistake would be to take anything for granted," Axelrod said. "But I also know him very well. If he decides to do it, then he will attack it as he has every other challenge in his life and earn it."
Axelrod was joined on stage by NBC "Nightly News" anchor Brian Williams, who repeatedly questioned him about the disillusionment many of the president's supporters feel over the administration's perceived failure to change Washington.
The senior White House aide countered that the administration has survived a greater litany of challenges and emergencies, ranging from the H1N1 flu outbreak to the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, than any administration in "a very long time." Events that were supposed to doom Obama's presidency have been overcome, he said, because of the president's resiliency and decisiveness.
"The oil leak was at the time viewed as kind of a defining, seminal event in the history of the administration and the country, and today the well is sealed," said Axelrod. "We have a lot of work to do to remediate the damage, but it isn't what people thought it would be in May."
When Williams asked if the administration had "gone Washington" instead of changing how politics work, as the news anchor said some of the president's supporters believe, Axelrod responded that becoming part of the political establishment means putting personal political gain above the health of the country. President Obama's decisions since taking office show he's putting the country, not his own political standing, first, he said.
"It took a great deal of leadership and courage on part of president to stand up for the Recovery Act that was absolutely necessary even if we knew it could be exploited in negative ways," he said.