Even though Rouse is almost unquestionably the most powerful Democratic staffer on Capitol Hill, he prefers to keep a low profile and moves easily through Capitol Hill hallways with little interference. But don’t expect him to be smiling all the time.
But people who know him well said Rouse, who has worked for Daschle for the past 19 years, puts up a front that belies his true personality of a man who prefers to defer credit to others.
“Everybody smiles when you talk about Pete, because he is tough on the outside and soft on the inside and everybody knows that,” Daschle said. “I think his secret of success, his magic, is that he has an amazing capacity to bring disparate people together and create a unity in a level of cooperation and chemistry that is remarkable.”
While Rouse holds master’s degrees from Harvard University and the London School of Economics, his Capitol Hill career began in a Senate mailroom in the early 1970s and was interrupted by a four-year stint in Alaska where he worked for a Republican lieutenant governor.
Rouse said he sees no contradiction in having once worked for a Republican and now helping Daschle implement a national Democratic legislative agenda.
“I am more interested in what people stand for and what my philosophical compatibility is,” he said. “I have found only one Republican. All the rest of them have been Democrats.”
One of the Democrats Rouse has worked for in his long, storied career on Capitol Hill is Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, who sought out Rouse’s advice in choosing a chief of staff when he was elected to the House in the early 1980s. After a three-hour conversation, Durbin offered him the job, which Rouse initially declined, only to finally accept it several months later.
“He has a terrific stable of context through staff and around Washington, and I really trust his judgment,” Durbin said. “He was a good administrative assistant for me.”
After working for Durbin for two years, Daschle sought out Rouse to tell him he was thinking of running for the Senate. Daschle wanted Rouse to run his House office during the campaign, the first of many political and legislative challenges he has faced while working for the South Dakotan. When Daschle upset then-Sen. Jim Abdnor (R-S.D.), Rouse moved across the Hill to join him as chief of staff in the Senate.
Everyone from Daschle to Senate Minority Whip Harry Reid (D-Nev.) suggests that the key to getting on Rouse’s good side is to express interest in his cats — two loyal companions who never ask him about policy and politics at the end of a long day.
“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.
Rouse laughed when asked about his affection for cats and described them as a “good conversation piece to go to whenever you don’t want to talk about what other people want to talk about.”
The cats have also given Rouse the opportunity to take a playful jab at Reid, who has been known to razz him about the felines.