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Rahm Emanuel on NBC's "Meet the Press." Transcript

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September 2, 2012

Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Mayor, welcome back.

Thank you, David.

As we assess Mitt Romney's performance coming out of his convention isn't the
reality is this is a deadlocked race? The president's approval rating is under
50%. Unemployment's still above 8%. Why does Mitt Romney have to come out of
that convention any better than being the lesser of two problematic choices?

Well, first of all, you have to line that a little back and that is you have a
convention speech-- and I think that the president's absolutely correct here. I
mean he's basically laid out the policy for Groundhog Day, which is we're going
to go back to the very things that led to a recession. Led to a middle class
that for the first time in American history in a decade actually saw their
economic security decline. That has never happened as it did in the last

And I also think it's interesting in that speech, when you think back at other
convention speeches, George Bush, "Read My Lips," Bill Clinton, "The New
Covenant," George Bush also said, "The Compassionate Conservative." George W.
Bush 43. There is nothing memorable. The reason we're debating, even
discussing Clint Eastwood is because there is nothing memorable about Mitt
Romney's speech. There is not a memorable line. A memorable philosophy.

All he advocated was the policies that led to the economic recession, the
financial meltdown and an auto industry that collapsed. And the American people
know that the president inherited those things and through tough, hard work has
begun to turn the corner on exactly what he inherited.

The economy is not in a recession. Not growing as fast as it needs to grow.
The auto industry isn't near collapse but actually is thriving. The financial
industry that was once facing a meltdown is now actually starting to slowly but
surely lend again to homeowners, small businesses and kids going to college.
And do we stay on that course or the course that led to actually the disaster
that he inherited on day one?

And we'll talk more about the choice. You mentioned Clint Eastwood. I want to
bring that up as well. It's certainly overshadowing what was a critical hour
for Mitt Romney. Here's a portion of what he said to the convention.


CLINT EASTWOOD: What do you want me to tell Romney? I can't tell him to do that.
I can't tell him to do that to himself.
(APPLAUSE) // You're crazy, you're absolutely crazy. You're getting as bad as

(End videotape)

Highly scripted convention and then an impromptu moment that struck many as at
least bizarre if not totally counterproductive. But here's the thing, mayor.
I'm sure, much to your delight and to the Democrats, you want to make some hay
of this at the Democratic convention, Romney advisors are saying, "Hey, not so
fast. This is still an American icon who is endorsing Mitt Romney." How do you
react to it?

Two things and what I really believe. Coming out of the convention they didn't
want a debate about Clint Eastwood. They wanted it about Mitt Romney's ideas.
We're not having that debate. Not even that discussion. People are talking
about, using your own word, the bizarre Clint Eastwood performance.

And the reason you're doing that is because Mitt Romney's speech was so devoid
and vacuous of any ideas. If there was a "Read My Lips" or, "For those who work
hard and play by the rules," as Bill Clinton said in '92. Anything that said,
"Here's my philosophy." A compassionate conservative philosophy. There was
nothing there. So the space post the convention is being about Clint Eastwood
or the fact that Paul Ryan's speech was factually challenged.

Let's talk about--

That is what's coming-- but no, I mean, wait a second. That is a critical
point. Nobody's debating Clint Eastwood's a great director, great writer. I
love his movies. But that moment in time is a commentary on Romney's speech.
And I think the Romney people-- I know this, you have a convention, you want it
about your candidate's ideas, not about a bizarre performance.

Let's talk about the president's own record, because there is a lot of
deflection the goes on by Democrats. And even you this morning talking about
more Mitt Romney, his speech or what he didn't say than the president's own
record. The president goes into Charlotte having to deal with a lot of
disappointment in the country about what he has not achieved in the course of
his first term. This is how Mitt Romney described it on Thursday. Watch.


MITT ROMNEY: Hope and change had a powerful appeal. But tonight I would ask a
simple question: if you felt that excitement when you voted for Barack Obama,
shouldn't feel that way now, that he is President Obama?

(End videotape)

And here's some of the polling, as I know you've seen, Mayor Emanuel, which is
this. The question of are you better off or worse off. Look at our poll. 69%,
nearly seven in 10 saying things are either the same or worse than when the
president came into office. You inherited a recession. You've tried to fix
parts of it. But what do you say to Americans who think you just can't deliver.
That the president can't deliver the better economy that they want and they

No, first of all, let me flip that. This is a election about a clear choice.
One person who said when it came to the auto industry that it had literally two
weeks left before it was going to collapse and implode. "Let Detroit go
bankrupt." The president had another four word statement. "Not on my watch."

One guy who said, "I want to give tax cuts to the best and well off in our
country." A different view, the president, "I'm going to make sure kids who are
going to college get tax credits and support so they can go to college." One
person who said when it came to the homeowners who were struggling to hold on,
the middle class who were trying to hold on to their home. "Let it bottom out."
Another view by President Obama which was, "No, we're going to help you try to
refinance to hold on here."

Those are clear distinctions of philosophy. The president clearly understands
the frustration the American people feel. A, that the economy's not moving to
the pace and the ability that it needs to. And he is working on that because
it's economy focused on the middle class.

B, they are very frustrated with Washington and the determination of some to
tear down policies rather than trying to build up this country. And that to me
is where the frustration is. Both, one on economics, one I would say on
Washington's inability to move forward and address it.

And I would also say third a values based. They're frustrated that we have a
society and an economy, as well as a culture, that has kind of two sets of rule
books and two sets of values. One for those that are most fortunate, who
operate by a different set of rules, and another set of rules for everybody
else. Think about it. When a business fails sometimes people get a golden
parachute. Other people get a pink slip. Those aren't the same rules. Those
aren't the same values.

But Mayor--

So they have--

--there's still the president's record. I mean he's got to reckon with his own

Of course.

--which is he set about to do one thing. He didn't deliver.


A lot of Americans think that Mitt Romney's got better ideas on how to deal with
the economy than this president.

No, it--

You can't just frame it in terms of a binary choice and not deal with the
president's own record, can you?

No, the fact is if people want to know about the first term, very simple.
General Motors is alive and well and Osama bin Laden is not. And that's what
got done. Because the president did deal, and they know in fact what he
inherited and what he is trying to fix.

And the question before the American people, will we go back to the policies
that actually took to middle class, gave us the recession, gave us an auto
industry about to implode, gave us a financial meltdown of historic proportion
or the person that led the country during those troubled times to get its feet
back on the ground.
And it is a choice, because that is what elections are. Yes, there'll be
looking at the president. And they will make that judgment. And it is
incumbent upon us to explain the choices and the direction we're going. But all
Romney has to offer, David, is actually to go back to the very policies that got
us into the rut we were in when the president was sworn in office.

And, remember, the first month he was sworn into office he took a baton in which
an economy was shrinking at the highest rate since the Great Depression.
800,000 Americans were losing their jobs. Today there's over four million
private sector jobs that were created on his watch, more on his watch in the
first term than all of two terms under George Bush. And yet it is not moving
fast enough, but I do believe the American people don't want to go back to the
very policies that created the economic mess.

Let me ask you about one of the attacks on President Obama that you dealt with
and you worked in the Clinton White House and that has to do with welfare
reform. Newt Gingrich, other Republicans, Newt will be on the program in just a
couple of minutes, the former House speaker, leading the charge at the
Republican convention about this change to welfare to work rules that the
president acquiesced to at the request of some Republican governors around the
country. This is what Gingrich said at the convention this week and I'll get
your response.


NEWT GINGRICH: Obama's waiving of the work requirement in welfare reform is just
one example of his direct repudiation of President Reagan's values.

(End videotape)

This is striking a cord with a lot of people who feel a lot of resentment in
this economy. How do you respond to it, Mayor?

Well, first of all, I was in the room on behalf of President Clinton negotiating
that welfare bill. One. Two, Newt Gingrich sent President Clinton two welfare
bills that he vetoed because actually it was the wrong course. Before the
actual bill got signed. Three, President Clinton's entire goal was to move
people from off of welfare to work, from dependence to independence and change
the entire philosophy of the system to one to help people move to work.

The work rule reforms in the states and the requirement of giving states the
ability of flexibility is we have one goal: work. Fifty different creative
ways to achieve it. Governor Romney asked for actually a waiver. But you had
to make sure your plan for Massachusetts, which is different than Mississippi or
Alabama's or California's, achieves the goal of work. And it was every
governor, regardless of party, who wanted to be creative in their own way to
achieve this single goal. And that is exactly how it's supposed to work.

And, fourth, I want to say this. When I came back after leaving President
Clinton's side, that's what the system wants. A historic change and it's now
moving more people to work. One of the very first conversations I had as a
Congressman with then State Senator Barack Obama, he was the sponsor of the
welfare to work policies here in Illinois. Our first discussion, one of our
first, on policies was on welfare to work policies and how to best achieve it.

He has a long record on this, a commitment. And the waiver increases people's
placement by 20% in jobs. The philosophy got changed because President Clinton
led the way and one of the states that was actually creative in achieving it was
Illinois and there was a state senator at the time by the name of Barack Obama
who was crafting the Illinois' program in a bipartisan way to move more people
from welfare to work. And I remember that distinctly in both places. And Newt
Gingrich., when he was speaker of the House, sent two bills to President Clinton
that had to be vetoed because all it was about was tearing people down, not
lifting them up out of welfare.

Let me ask you a final question on policy. Here's the cover of The Economist
this week that really gets to the president speaking down in Charlotte. And it
says this. "One question, Mr. President. Just what would you do with another
four years?" What is the takeaway from this convention, the tangible idea about
how to turn this economy around that he has not been able to achieve in four

That is the crux and what I believe he will do is lay out an agenda and a clear
vision of the next four years in which you have an economy built on the middle
class. The middle class cannot afford, like the last decade, where they see
their economic security or their economic position decline further.

They have to participate in the economic growth. They have to be able to own a
home, send their kids to college, save for their retirement and not be one
sickness away from bankruptcy. And they have to be the bedrock. And building
this country means building the middle class.

And he has to lay that vision and how we will specifically get there. And that
will stand in contrast to Mitt Romney's speech because there was none of that.
The entire agenda of both the first and second term are about strengthening the
middle class, not weakening it. Strengthening the economy by strengthening the
middle class. And he has to be specific to how he's going to do that and I
believe he will do that.

Mayor, before you go I want to ask you about a huge crisis in your own city and
that is of course the murder rate. It's up 31% from a year ago. Forty
shootings just last weekend. Nine left dead. A couple of people shot even near
the president's home on the south side. What are you doing to address this?

First, we put more police on the street. Getting kids, guns and drugs off the
street. Our crime rate is down 10% and in fact our shootings have declined from
what basically we lost the early part of the first quarter of the year and we've
brought them dramatically down.

We have a gang issue on parts of the city. Overall crime? Down 10%. And we're
making efforts actually to reduce the gang conflicts because it's gang on gang
issues. It does not affect the whole city, but anywhere it happens we're going
to be dealing with it.

Is this not a crisis in your estimation? Is it something that's being
overblown? Or is this something that you have a hard time containing at the

No, we're containing it. And the question I have is not whether people say a
crisis or a challenge. I'm going to do everything I can to make sure every
child, when they're going to school, can think about their studies, not their
safety, regardless of where they live. And that's my first priority.

Rahm Emanuel, mayor of Chicago, thank you as always. We will see you down in
Charlotte this week.

Thanks David.

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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 September 2, 2012 11:24 AM.

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