On Rahm Emanuel, David Axelrod and Valerie Jarrett, the most prominent Chicago staffers in the Obama White House...
Is Emanuel, the chief of staff on his way out or is he the most important person in the Obama administration? Is Chicago in the running to be the headquarter city for the Obama 2012 re-election campaign? Both these matters have been in the national news these past days.
Item One: On Emanuel and senior advisors Jarrett and Axelrod:
The latest chatter about Emanuel's tenure and Jarrett and Axelrod was triggered by a Sunday column by the Washington Post's Dana Milbank. Milbank was very rough on Jarrett and Axelrod and White House press secretary Robert Gibbs in bolstering Emanuel's tenure as chief of staff. Emanuel has been the subject of some sniping and Milbank provided Emanuel's strongest defense to date.
"Obama's first year fell apart in large part because he didn't follow his chief of staff's advice on crucial matters. Arguably, Emanuel is the only person keeping Obama from becoming Jimmy Carter," Milbank wrote.
Milbank goes on: Obama's problem is that his other confidants -- particularly Valerie Jarrett and Robert Gibbs, and, to a lesser extent, David Axelrod -- are part of the Cult of Obama. In love with the president, they believe he is a transformational figure who needn't dirty his hands in politics."
And this: "Obama's greatest mistake was failing to listen to Emanuel on health care. Early on, Emanuel argued for a smaller bill with popular items, such as expanding health coverage for children and young adults, that could win some Republican support. He opposed the public option as a needless distraction."
And this: "The failure of the president's message also reflects on his message maven, Axelrod, who is an adept strategist but blinded by Obama love. A good example was Obama's unproductive China trip in November. Jarrett, Gibbs and Axelrod went along as courtiers; Emanuel remained at his desk in Washington, struggling to keep alive the big health-care bill that he didn't want in the first place."
My take: Emanuel has said he only promised to stay in the White House for two years. Axelrod has talked about only staying two years. Jarrett is in for the long haul.
The Obama presidency is a lifetime achievement for Axelrod and Jarrett, the realization of their own dreams and aspirations. They have been with Obama since the early days of his political career. Emanuel, on the other hand, was not part of the presidential campaign, was drafted for the Obama White House and he--unlike Jarrett and Axelrod--gave up something that was very important to him--his House seat and his independence as a political figure on track to being Speaker of the House--in order to answer the call for a second stint in the White House.
Axelrod and Jarrett have hit a career high with President Obama. For Emanuel, this tour of duty in the White House is a sidetrack from a path he was on to realize his own ambitions. The Emanuel camp I am told sees all this back and forth about his standing as absurd.
Item Two: Politico's Mike Allen wrote, "President Barack Obama's top advisers are quietly laying the groundwork for the 2012 reelection campaign, which is likely to be run out of Chicago and managed by White House deputy chief of staff Jim Messina, according to Democrats familiar with the discussions."
I asked Axelrod and White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer about this.
Axelrod e-mailed me in reply, "Honestly, we have not had one discussion about this or any aspect of 2012. It's nuts."
"It was news to us," said Pfeiffer in an e-mail to me.
Jarrett was asked about Allen's story during a Fox News interview on Wednesday with Fox White House correspondent Major Garrett. Here's the exchange:
GARRETT "Before I let you go, Mike Allen, somebody I know and respect, somebody I know and respect, someone I know you know, has a piece in Politico today saying that conversations and plans, though, incremental, have begun for the 2012 campaign. He mentioned your name and several others who were prominent in the 2008 campaign.
At what stage is the reelection campaign, if at all, underway?
JARRETT: Not at all. Not at all. And I actually said that to Mike Allen yesterday. You just -- we just spent the first part of this interview talking about health care and regulatory reform and job creation and all of the challenges that we're facing here in government. We aren't even beginning to think about the election.
We're thinking about tomorrow.
GARRETT: You're not even planning for it?
JARRETT: Not at all...
GARRETT: Because most presidents, in a first term, at least initially, plan for their reelection, because it's something that you can't not think about once you're here in this building.
JARRETT: With the magnitude of challenges facing our country right now, I can assure you that the very last thing President Obama is thinking about is planning an election campaign. That's not what he was elected to do. He has plenty on his plate and he is determined -- he wakes up every morning focusing on the American people, not an election that's two years off. My goodness.