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Obama’s new chief gathers isle kudos

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Asian-American groups and some local politicians are praising the appointment of Peter Rouse as the interim White House chief of staff.

Rouse, whose mother is Japanese-American, is the latest in a string of Asian Americans among Washington, D.C.’s power elite, a team chosen by Hawaii-born President Barack Obama. Rouse, who is from Connecticut and was a congressional and Obama aide, is the first Asian American to become chief of staff.

Brian Schatz, a key player in Obama’s campaign in the islands, said Rouse’s appointment shows Obama is "very comfortable in diversity."

"This latest appointment shows his continuing commitment in putting together a diverse team," said Schatz, also a candidate for Hawaii lieutenant governor. "It shows that he’s learned the lessons of Hawaii and has taken them to the White House."

Obama also has appointed Kauai-born Eric Shinseki, a retired Army general, as secretary of veterans affairs. Thai-born Tammy Duckworth is the assistant secretary for public and intergovernmental affairs for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Steven Chu is the first Asian American to become the secretary of energy. Gary Locke, a Chinese-American, is secretary of commerce.

"The president has exceeded my expectations of appointing Asian Americans to prominent positions," said Keith Kamisugi, communications director of the Equal Justice Society in San Francisco.

Kamisugi has campaigned for Obama in Hawaii, California and Washington state, and has done consulting for political action committees for Asian Americans.

"I think that Pete Rouse will be chief of staff because of his ability, skills and relationship with the president more than the fact that he’s Asian American," Kamisugi said. "But the significance is that it’s another example of the president opening opportunity to Asian Americans and other people of color to prominent positions in government."

Hawaii’s congressional delegation also had kind words to say about Rouse in his new job. White House aides say Rouse is likely to fill the role permanently.

"I join Asian Americans across the country in celebrating his selection, which reflects President Obama’s appreciation of our nation’s diversity," said Democratic U.S. Rep. Mazie Hirono. "Mr. Rouse brings a unique background to this critical position, and I’m confident he will do a great job as chief of staff."

U.S. Rep. Charles Djou, a Republican, said yesterday he welcomes and commends Rouse’s selection.

"It is my hope that Mr. Rouse will work in a more bipartisan fashion than his predecessor," said Djou, referring to Rahm Emanuel, who resigned to run for Chicago mayor. "I look forward to meeting Mr. Rouse to change the current policies in Washington and turn around our economy."

 

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