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Rahm Emanuel's Obama drama

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WASHINGTON--"I am not like carving out little pieces of his presidency to get my agenda done," Rahm Emanuel told me when we talked about his year as President Obama's chief of staff. He knew exactly why he was in the White House and what his job was. Emanuel added, "This is all his presidency, his agenda, and that is who I am serving."

I pulled out my Jan. 11 interview with Emanuel as recent stories and columns in the Washington Post triggered snowballing pundit chatter about the tenure of Emanuel, a former Chicago congressman. This is a new narrative, and it is frustrating the Obama White House, which is not used to such drama.

It comes as Obama's approval ratings are low and he has make-or-break votes on health-care reform in Congress and faces challenges in closing the Guantanamo Bay military prison and trying terrorist suspects who are currently being held there. Things are tense in the Obama White House. There have been disagreements. But that's different from suggesting there are substantive rifts within the close-knit group.

Last Monday, I learned, Obama made clear to senior staff -- in an Oval Office meeting after he returned from a trip to Savannah, Ga. -- that he didn't like these stories. He reminded them that it is "one for all and all for one'' in his administration. They were there to get things done for the nation, and they were not in the White House to engage in what Obama considered petty Washington intrigue.

This episode was triggered by Post columnist Dana Milbank in a Feb. 21 piece titled "Why Obama Needs Rahm," a rebuttal to those who blamed Emanuel for Obama's struggles. Milbank concluded that Obama would not be in trouble if he had taken Emanuel's advice. Milbank wrote, "Obama's first year fell apart in large part because he didn't follow his chief of staff's advice on crucial matters."

He also poked at the other Chicago pals who, along with Emanuel, are in Obama's inner circle. Senior advisers David Axelrod and Valerie Jarrett are "in love with the president," wrote Milbank, in contrast to the pragmatic Emanuel.

Milbank's column was followed by a Feb. 27 Colbert King column in the Post, "What price Emanuel?" Then, the attention grabber: a front page, above-the-fold news story in the Tuesday Post headlined "Hotheaded Emanuel may be the voice of reason."

The Post's David Broder zinged his Post colleagues in his Thursday column, "The fable of Emanuel the Great," where he concluded that portraying Obama as a "screw-up" but for Emanuel was "remarkable fiction."

Whew.

Coming on the heels of the pending departure of White House social secretary Desiree Rogers, another Obama friend from Chicago, the speculation about Emanuel fits into a growing storyline in the national press about the Chicagoans in the White House. I've seen versions of this movie before: the Texans who came with George W. Bush and the Arkansas folks who arrived with Bill Clinton.

No matter what, Emanuel and Axelrod have already said they may leave after two years. Jarrett is in for the long haul and holds a unique position in the Obama White House.

She is a personal friend of Obama and first lady Michelle Obama, so close they have vacationed together in the last year in Hawaii and Martha's Vineyard with other friends. Jarrett is a trusted adviser, not unlike Bobby Kennedy, who was attorney general under his brother, President John F. Kennedy.

Former Commerce Secretary William Daley, who served under Clinton -- Mayor Daley's brother and a close Axelrod and Emanuel friend -- told me he talked to Emanuel.

"I think he finds it somewhat humorous that people are running around talking about what he supposedly said or did or his positions,'' Daley said. "I think he's more focused on and more concerned on passing health care, getting the economy back, the sort of stuff that really matters in the long run."

Axelrod told me in an e-mail, "Rahm's been my great friend for almost 30 years and will be forever. I think his efforts as [chief of staff] have been heroic and prodigious. He has loyally and faithfully executed the President's vision."

Said Daley, "All of this stuff is gibberish in the scheme of a four-year term and what is meaningful for the country."

6 Comments

It's not an active choice of carving out of the agenda. It seems his attitude a lot of the time.

More like it's the attitude of progressives who are disappointed with the president's agenda and are looking for someone else to blame. They've been throwing Obama under the bus for months with their constant suggestions that he is being controlled by his Chief of Staff.

I met Rahm nearly 20 years ago and have followed his career ever since. In my opinion, Rahm's the poster boy for what's wrong with the Democratic Party. While the majority of Democrats face the worst recession in 75 years, he remains arrogant, vain, and elitist. He was the ramrod for NAFTA and then made a very profitable segway into investment banking after leaving the White House. Enough already! He needs to go!!!

Well, well, well, if these guys won't pick up and leave quietly, as Spiro Agnew Once Said, in his book, "Go Quietly Or Else," it seems like the "i" word, which stands for Impeachment seems to be the only way that the clutter can be removed, before this adminstration destroys the nation.
Let us hear it for The Impeachment of Nero-Bama, which by the way was signalled by the victory of LaRouche Democrat, Kesha Rogers, in the 22nd District of Texas, Democratic Congressional Primary, last Tuesday, March 2, 2010! That was her number one issue, THE IMPEACHMENT OF OBAMA: The DEMOCRATIC VOTERS VOTED FOR IT by 52% for Kesha vs. 27% for Doug Blatt, the loser.

The attacks against Rahm Emanuel are nothing more than a bold attempt, as in a game of chess, to attack President Obama's inner circle, the 'king.' (Simile, metaphor...) It is presumptuous, but transparent; hopefully transparent enough for the White House to not have its feathers ruffled (staffers choosing sides) to allow such nonsense to set off turf wars and leaks, or worse, any personnel changes.
The success and shelf-life of the attacks against Mr. Emanuel represent something that the White House should definitely pay attention to: Strengthening the defense, enough to go on offense. (In every area of policy and politics)

This means more than David Axelrod being a one-man P.R. front. His piece in the Times Sunday was revelatory, to some, less so to others, who have been imploring for some time now that a team of tough communicators emerge from the White House; (Not policy people such as Goolsbee, or Barnes, or Bernstein, nice and smart as they are.) Out of 69 people on the W.H. communications team, there must be 6-8 sharks. Free them! Organize them, train them thoroughly, keep them on message, but let 'em rip!
Axelrod demonstrated uber-naivete and self-absorption in the article. Scary.
When people say "Obama need a gray beard in the White House..." this lack of sharp-witted savvy, as represented in the quotes in the Times feature, is what they are talking about. The trouble is not Mr. Emanuel.

While it is fine to take one's best sister/girlfriend to the White House, putting her on the lawn to talk to media is not going to cut it. In any way at all. A professional politician, such as Rahm...I am surprised he has had this much patience.

And, when the President enters the room, it is always, "Sir."
A Times reporter is in the room, and the greeting actually is, 'Hey'? OMG.
Why provide source material for the haters?
Oi.

I find it humorous the rhetorical tricks that are used to set the US on the path to a state healthcare system. Going from 'passing universal health insurance', to 'passing Health Care Reform', to 'passing Health Care Overhaul', it is now apparently called 'passing Health Care'. Walk softly and carry a big stick, and only use the stick more the more you need to, if you want to preserve your image as a nice guy. Something Obama knows and plays to with his "bipartisanship" theatrical lies.

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Lynn Sweet

Lynn Sweet is a columnist and the Washington Bureau Chief for the Chicago Sun-Times.

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This page contains a single entry by Lynn Sweet published on March 7, 2010 4:16 PM.

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