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Rahm Emanuel has accepted the position of chief of staff in Barack Obama’s White House. Emanuel masterminded the Democratic takeover of the House in 2006 and was elected party chairman by his colleagues. Real News Senior Editor Paul Jay discusses the implications of this appointment with McClatchy’s White House correspondent David Lightmnan.

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Obama recruits “Rahmbo” Emanuel

PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News’ continuing coverage of the Barack Obama almost-presidency. The president-elect is now picking his team, and now we’re going to discuss what does the team tell us about Barack Obama’s administration. Joining us to discuss this issue is David Lightman. He’s the White House correspondent for McClatchy Newspapers. Thanks, David.


JAY: So the talk right now is that the job of chief of staff has been offered to Rahm Emanuel. And anyone that’s watched West Wing will know how important that job is, assuming West Wing was accurate. But I think a chief of staff controls schedule; he controls a whole flow of information to the president. So it’s a very significant job. So start off telling us: who is Rahm Emanuel?

LIGHTMAN: Rahm Emanuel’s a congressman from Chicago, the northwestern side of Chicago, I believe. Right now he’s a part of the House leadership, number four in the House leadership. He’s widely known for his political skill and being able to manage people, to bring them together on votes, often with a heavy hand. I mean, he’s an enforcer, as such.

JAY: Yeah, that was his nickname a little while ago.

LIGHTMAN: Yeah, Rahmbo—R-A-H-M-B-O. Rahmbo. I mean, he—.

JAY: But what did he do to get the Rahmbo rep?

LIGHTMAN: He really got that, I think, in the White House. He was a fundraiser;—

JAY: Working for Clinton.

LIGHTMAN: —then he was a political advisor. Yeah, under Bill Clinton. And he was known for his take-no-prisoners attitude, with a tough-guy approach.

JAY: Was there an example of that?

LIGHTMAN: In the Clinton White House he was more behind the scenes. In the House, he’s obviously been an important vote-getter for Nancy Pelosi, the House speaker. He’s the arm-twister, and I say that with respect. He’s a tough guy. He really made his reputation in this town, though, I think, in 2006 when he headed the Democratic National Campaign Committee. That was the year Democrats retook the House after being in the minority for 12 years. He helped recruit the candidates. He set the strategy. He raised the money. He raised the money early, and he went after these seats, darn it, and he not only won, but the Democrats ended up controlling something like 236 seats. You need 218 for a majority.

JAY: And he’s credited with a lot of that [inaudible]

LIGHTMAN: Oh, yeah, very much so. And then he quickly moved into the leadership after that as a reward.

JAY: Now, on this, the Democratic Party, as we’ve talked about last night and other times on The Real News, is really an alliance of blocs of interests. And you can probably break it down many ways. There are various caucuses of various kinds. But broadly speaking, you have a conservative section of the Democratic Party and a more progressive section. Where is Emanuel on this spectrum? And what’s that going to do to party unity?

LIGHTMAN: If you have a look at his voting record, you say, “Gosh, this guy is part of the liberal wing.” Democrats—there’s no hardcore conservative Democrats, the way you’d find in the Republican Party; it’s more middle-of-the road Democrats. But, again, he’s a practical politician; he’s able to do business with both sides. Will he go to the White House and offer a liberal agenda? No. He’ll offer an Obama agenda, whatever that may be. If you want to put that in a box and say it’s liberal or moderate or this and that, so be it, but he’s the one who, when Obama says, “Here’s my economic plan, here are my tax cuts, here are my tax increases,” this is the guy who’s going to be the lead salesman.

JAY: Now, so, does Rahm Emanuel tell us anything about the political direction of the administration? Or do you think it’s really an administrative call?

LIGHTMAN: I think it’s an administrative call, a stylistic call. I think we know the direction of an Obama administration. We’ve seen that throughout the campaign. And, again, to put it in a box I think may do it a disservice. Yes, it’s liberal in some ways and not others. It tells us that Obama is bringing in somebody who’s not just a Washington insider who knows the capital, but knows how to get things done in Washington.

JAY: There has been a specific issue raised that Emanuel is known as a—you know, whether this is true or not, his reputation is that he’s pretty hardcore support for Israel without critique. And people are looking to see if Obama can play a role outside the more totally pro-Israel stance that we’ve been seeing the last eight years. Does Emanuel tell us anything about that?

LIGHTMAN: Ron Emanuel’s always been identified more with domestic policy, and, frankly, I’m not sure the chief of staff is going to have a lot of—well, he’ll have input, but he’s not the key player on foreign policy. Presumably Obama will name the national security advisor very soon, a secretary of state, etcetera, etcetera. That’s going to be your foreign policy team. As far as Obama’s foreign policy, it’s a still-evolving drama. We don’t know. You look back to his speeches, his debate comments, his issue papers, he’s eager for diplomacy. He doesn’t rule out intervention in certain instances. We don’t know. I think when we see who he names to his team, maybe as soon as this week, that’ll tell us a lot more.

JAY: Thank you very much. And we will come back to you again very soon to discuss other appointments of the Obama administration. Thank you for joining us from The Real News shooting space at the McClatchy Newspaper office in Washington, DC. And you’ll see over my shoulder, or down here somewhere, a “donate” button, and as you know, we depend on you for our support. Thanks for joining us.


Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.

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