WASHINGTON--A rap on White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel is that he was instrumental in killing the public option in the health care bill--an assertion that has roiled the progressive community and unions and has implications on Emanuel's run for mayor of Chicago--which he will launch this weekend.
Like many narratives in Washington, it's not the whole story. Health and Human Service Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said emphatically "no, no, no, no," on Thursday when I asked her if Emanuel killed the public option--and what it is like to work with Emanuel at a breakfast sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor.
On the battle for the health care law, Sebelius said Emanuel,
was "more in the tactical, how do we get from here to there, you know, what is the pathway, what's the vote look like, who do we need, who don't we have, and he was very hands on in every step of that process."
The fact is that President Obama realized early on that there was not enough political support for the public option--so he moved on to crafting legislation that Congress would pass. Obama has said so many times--again this week-- as his signature health care law marked its six-month anniversary and many consumer protections are becoming available right now.
I'm told by someone who was close to the internal White House health care debate--not Sebelius--that Emanuel did argue against the public option from Day One in the health care fight --not on the policy, but cause he saw it as a fight the Obama White House could not win. Emanuel was in favor of a smaller, less expensive bill. It is true that Emanuel was not pre-disposed to go out of his way for the progressive wing--especially if is was for what he saw was a lost cause--he was more allied with the Democratic centrists in Congress.
But at the end of the day Emanuel--and Obama wanted a new health care coverage law and they got one.
President Obama will announce Emanuel's departure from the White House on Friday--if all goes as planned--and Emanuel jets back to Chicago over the weekend to launch his mayoral campaign--kicking it off with a "listening tour" of the city's neighborhoods.
As Emanuel closes out his historic run in the Obama White House as his first chief of staff, I asked Sebelius about him. On Wednesday, I also asked Admiral Mike Mullen about Emanuel, and I'll recap his comments here, to be part of the historic record.
I asked Sebelius what it is like to work with Emanuel, what is his style and what deals he cut that were important to getting the health care bill passed. Here's what she said:
Emanuel is "never boring. He's active, he's engaged, he's got ideas about everything and is really involved in everything as a chief of staff should be in terms of, you know, a wide range of topics.
"His dealing in the health care area was I would say not as much deeply involved in the policy decisions, the president really did that.
"There were a number of times along the way that you know, the president would be very engaged in making a policy choice but (Emanuel was involved) more in the tactical, how do we get from here to there, you know, what is the pathway, what's the vote look like, who do we need, who don't we have, and he was very hands on in every step of that process.
"And it was an interesting and somewhat torturous process because it changed a number of times."
I pressed Sebelius on Emanuel's style--as he starts a run for Chicago's chief executive.
"Rahm is 24-7 all the time. If he has an idea, it should have (been) done yesterday or the day before. So it's a pretty--just call it fast pace--is an underestimate."
Does he deserve blame for killing the public option, I asked.
Said Sebelius, "no, no, no, no."
Emanuel was described Wednesday by Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff as "incisive," "direct," "engaged" and "undeterred."
I asked Mullen about Emanuel at a Christian Science Monitor breakfast. Emanuel and Mullen are central figures in "Obama's Wars," the new Bob Woodward book--portrayed at odds over Afghanistan troop levels.
What was Emanuel's style in those meetings? How did he get people to make decisions, I asked Mullen.
"I have found him incisive, direct, engaged and often times," said Mullen, who was interrupted by another reporter who said "Profane?"
"Actually not. Actually not, said Mullen, who picked up his train of thought on Emanuel, "and undeterred and I mean and somebody who I think has contributed significantly. That's about all I will say."