WH Chief of Staff’s Love Of Cats Inspires Praise, Put-Downs


White House interim Chief of Staff Pete Rouse has Master’s degrees from the London School of Economics and the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard. He may also be the first Asian-American White House chief of staff. But bloggers and news outlets have focused most of their commentary on Rouse’s love of cats.

“Rahm Emmanuel’s replacement is obsessed with cats,” reads news blog Gawker‘s headline. The article’s author, Jim Newell, then goes on to say “What’s this guy’s deal? Well, he’s a much quieter, behind-the-scenes type. And he’s into cats. Really into cats.”

Rouse, described by The New York Times as being “intensely private,” is single and lives alone with his two cats.

CNN reports that everyone from former Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle, for whom Rouse worked before joining Obama’s staff in 2004, to Senate Minority Whip Harry Ried suggests that the best way to getting on Rouse’s good side is to express interest in his two Maine Coon cats.

“He loves cats, and the way to suck up to Pete is to get him sort of a cat gift of some kind,” Daschle said.

An article by Mary Vallis in Canada’s National Post suggests with some humor that Rouse’s love of felines may bode well for US-Canadian relations. “Let’s not forget that Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his wife, Laureen, have shared a ‘mutual love of cats’ since they first met.”

The New Republic‘s Michelle Cottle stated in a 2004 article, “Some observers suggest, ever so gently, that Rouse’s cat devotion is related to his lack of a personal life.”

Gawker took the criticism one step further, stating that Rouse, an “unmarried, childless workaholic,” is a perfect candidate for White House chief of staff. “His only hobby is to bury his face in cat fur and play with cat toys and eat cookies for maybe 15 minutes each day.”

Commenters to the Gawker article called the Newell out on his stereotypes. “The Prince,” for example, said “Middle aged bachelor. Enjoys his privacy. Loves cats. Very subtle insinuation.”

“Wendy Kroy” said, “That final sentence is groundbreaking, in a way – that particular mix of contempt and pity for a career-minded unmarried person is generally reserved for use in articles about middle-aged women, not men (see: 90% of stories on Sotomayor and Napolitano).”

Others questioned Gawker’s derisive evaluation of Rouse’s life. “Jen Holloway Harris,” for example, had this come-back, “So, he’s awesome?”

“Boobookitteh” commented, in response to the mention of Rouse’s “only hobby,” was, “You say that like it’s a bad thing.”

Psychology Today columnist Bella DePaulo said, “What I find most obnoxious about stories such as the Gawker one is what I think of as the ‘substitution hypothesis’ — that single people substitute a love of cats for that spouse they don’t have.”

Jamal Simmons, a Democratic consultant, was quoted in a Politico article: Ive heard people who have worked for Pete Rouse call him the Oracle or Yoda, but Ive never heard him called anything derogatory. Thats a real accomplishment for someone whose job it is to tell people no as much as a chief of staff must.

So, although Washington insiders know Rouse as a person who “puts out fires” and praise him for his ability to reduce friction in a town where friction is a constant, the world at large now knows him, for better or for worse, as a devoted cat lover.

[Sources: Gawker, CNN, the National Post, Psychology Today, Politico, and The New York Times]

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