Hyperactive Rahm Emanuel Gives Manic Interview

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Monday, 07 Apr 2014 08:57 PM

By Sharon Churcher

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He says he isn't interested in a 2016 presidential run, but the Democrat known as Rahmbo is flexing his biceps.

Rahm Emanuel, mayor of Chicago and former Obama chief of staff, takes on his two chief potential rivals -- former Secretary of State Hillary and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie -- as well as his ex-boss and the entire Washington establishment in an interview with the New Republic titled ''Stark Raving Rahm.''

“A conversation with Emanuel is a physical experience,” reports the magazine’s Isaac Chotiner. “When he has strong feelings about a subject — which is often — he frequently sits on the very edge of his chair, emphasizing his point through proximity.”

The following are excerpts from the interview.

On Obamacare:

Chotiner (IC): When the Obamacare website wasn’t working properly, did you want to be in Washington trying to fix it?

Emanuel (RE): You gotta be kidding. You get a freebie question for the ridiculousness of that question.

IC: I was asking about your competitive instinct. You say you like to fix things.

RE: [Gets up and starts walking around the office.] That goes down as one of the more intriguing questions I have ever had. Did I wish I was in Washington to fix a website? Let me answer that. I have a single-word answer. No. Please do not edit out the sarcasm of that answer.

On Hillary Clinton:

IC: I am not going to ask about Hillary Clinton and Obama, but—

RE : [Laughs.] What a setup for that question.

IC: I wanted to ask how you think the two Clintons are different as leaders.

RE: I would actually start with the similarities. They are both incredibly committed to public service. Look, I love this job. I love it even when it is tough. To deal with what you have to deal with as mayor or president, there has to be an overriding psychological or professional or emotional gratification that would let you go through all the angst. You have to have an overriding sense of mission, which they do.

Both of them would agree, I think, that while Bill Clinton was seen as centrist and Hillary less so during the White House years, that is not true. They are clearly different speakers, which is central to leadership. Bill Clinton can go with or without a text. I think Hillary is equally eloquent when she lets go of that text. I have seen her connect with people in a way that is unbelievable.

IC: Last time, she was best when she wasn’t the “inevitable” candidate.

RE: You always try to connect with people, but what she then realized was — I don’t want to say, “Be yourself,” but don’t be so disciplined. [He starts shaking, mimicking a neurotic person.] For all the problems of authenticity, people love public officials who are who they are.

On New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie:

IC: Chris Christie was going to be the savior.

RE: He “was.” You said it in past tense.

IC: Do you think it is past tense?

RE: I do. Nothing is ever absolute in politics, but I am willing to go out on a limb and join you. It may take more than an immediate time frame for him to recover, and he doesn’t have more than that.

IC: Right.

RE: I am listening [for the next question].

On Occupy Wall Street leftists :

IC: This isn’t an issue where you seem angry, yelling that Wall Street needs to pay.

RE: Look, I am not defending Wall Street. Wall Street has screwed up enough. But let me answer it this way: Wall Street is not to blame that we had a 7 percent graduation rate in city community colleges. I fixed it — it is now 14 percent. I doubled it in two years. Wall Street is not responsible for that. We allowed the colleges to deteriorate.

[Sits right on the edge of the chair, waving his finger in IC’s face.] I met a young man on 35th street, right across from what you would know as Comiskey Park. I am shaking hands, and he says he was at Harold Washington College. He was getting a B.A. He said he works at Target and goes to school full-time. He is doing everything you want him to do. Now, can I say in good conscience that Harold Washington will help him the way Sarah Lawrence and Northwestern helped me? Where did you go?

Urgent: Do You Approve Or Disapprove of President Obama's Job Performance? Vote Now in Urgent Poll

On Washington, D.C.:

IC: How is governing different in Washington versus Chicago?

RE: One you can actually run, and the other you don’t have a chance.

IC: I think I know which is which.

RE: You don’t get any bonus points for figuring that out. Look, I can’t imagine being mayor and not having had the experience working for President Clinton or President Obama, or, for that matter, working in Congress. On the other hand, I think I would have been a better adviser had I been mayor first. If I had had this job first, I could have seen the implications of things I was doing.

IC: Is it easier to set goals as mayor than in Washington? It seems like there might be fewer constraints in Chicago.

RE: It is not harder. Because of the powers and the history of this office, you are able to maneuver the government. The challenge for the president is — I don’t want to analyze this president.

IC: Forget this president. How about the challenge of the presidency?

RE: There is a diffusion of power. Here there is a focus of power. Let me give an example, and I don’t want to tout what we are doing, but since you asked. [Laughs.] We are redoing every playground in the city of Chicago. It is all paid for. All new equipment. Done. [Claps hands.]

I believe in parks as a dramatic improvement in the quality of life in the city. We are adding parks everywhere. We are trying to get the Interior Department to designate a local park to be a national designation, and it is like a three-year process. They have interest in doing it, but my God. In Chicago, I wanted to make sure every child in four years' time was a 10-minute walk from a new park or playground. It’s done. We are going to get there one year ahead of time.

IC: You don’t have a Congress that prohibits you from passing the smallest thing.

RE: We have 50 aldermen, but we do have a . . . hmm.

IC: A working majority?

RE: [Bursts into laughter.] We have a can-do spirit. Washington doesn’t think they have a lot on the line. We have a lot on the line.

IC: They do have a lot on the line, they just don’t act like it.

RE: That is true.

On his personal style:

IC: But you still have this reputation. You must have seen what Robert Gates called you in his book: “a whirling dervish with attention deficit disorder.”

RE: Yeah, so? What are you wondering?

IC: Well —

RE: Finish your question.

IC: Do you pursue this style and image because it has advantages in governing?

RE: The assumption is that I only have one gear.

IC: OK, I am asking about that gear.

RE: Well, first of all, I am interested in telling you I have more than one gear. Here is what I think about you guys.

IC: The media?

RE: Look, politicians are usually gray. I am not. So, little things stand out because they are magnified against that backdrop. I will say this. I am driven to fulfill the responsibility I have. I owe the people who voted to fulfill the pledges I made.

IC: The portrait of you in your brother Zeke's [Emanuel] new book [about health reform] was interesting. He made it seem as if you care about getting things done no matter the details. In one scene, doctors bring up malpractice reform and you sort of say, screw this. But more recently, when you talk about being mayor, you talk about the need for a bigger vision.

RE: You asked me about style. Now you are asking me a different question.

IC: Yes.

RE: Don’t mix the answers with the questions.

IC: I promise not to.

RE: I was chief of staff. I was charged with trying to produce a healthcare bill that hadn’t been done in a hundred years. And I will say, it happened. [Laughs.] I love my brother. As you know, we have a lot of disagreements.


On the chances of a Middle East peace deal:

RE: I am uncharacteristically optimistic, just on the optimism side of 50 percent.

IC: Why now?

RE: I think it is a framework deal, which is different and easier than a final deal. And I think the parties have enough in common about the framework, which they have known for 10 years.

IC: But why is there the will now?

RE: Hamas is as weak as it’s going to be. Abbas is ready to work with Israel. Israel has a security concern involving geography. But geography does not have the same value it did in 1967. And I want to say that there is nothing I just said that major figures in the national security apparatus of the IDF [Israel Defense Forces] and Israel haven’t said publicly. Nothing!

IC: Sometimes American politicians can’t say things that have already been said in Israel —

RE: You are not allowed to here! Because the American — well, for whatever reason, that is a whole different debate. I don’t want to talk about this. It is not my business. I don’t really care. But Israel’s national security apparatus has concluded what I have observed. [Laughs.]

IC: At the risk of making an awkward segue that you will mock —

RE: That was light jest. You haven’t heard mocking yet.

On the Republican Party:

IC: How do you think the GOP has changed since you left Washington in 2011?

RE: It has been going downhill. Washington is not broken. The GOP is broken. They need a Bill Clinton moment with someone to figure things out. Let me just say, and I don’t agree with his policies, so let me put a warning label on the side of the packet here: If George W. Bush had never gotten in the disastrous Iraq war, he was trying to modernize the party on a series of fronts. But on tax and foreign policy, everything cratered.

On New York City’s new Democratic Mayor Bill de Blasio:

IC: A lot of mayors in the Democratic Party, or mayors like Michael Bloomberg who are ideologically similar to you or Obama, often seem to be tougher on fiscal and labor issues at the local level.

RE: I am not sure I understand the question.

IC: Mayors have to balance a budget or deal with pensions. Democrats at the local level seem more willing to be tough on these issues.

RE: I would change the terminology around the word “tough.” I think the president is hardheaded. My choices are more prevalent to people in the way they live their lives. We are getting to a point where we can make a pension payment or pave a road but we can’t do both. I am not tough on pensions. I am realistic. There is a difference. It is also realistic from a fiscal side that, if all we do is make no changes, I would have to raise taxes at a level that would harm the economy. I would become the federal government.

IC: With Bill de Blasio, we are seeing cleavages within the Democratic Party. Pensions. Negotiation with the unions. Charter schools.

RE: There are divisions, or I would call them differences. But I just left my staff meeting. We have differences, too.

IC: You can fire them.

RE: [Grimaces.] They’re good. They work hard. Doesn’t mean they agree with me. I think too much of the debate in Washington is about ideological gradations. I have a piece today [in the Chicago Sun-Times] about the Earned Income Tax Credit. I have negotiated to expand it. Now, is that considered left or right?

IC: Uh —

RE: [Raises voice.] It’s crap.

IC: What is?

RE: I consider myself a progressive. I have a passion for people who work. To me, this is about forward-looking versus backward-looking. Ideological gradations are the wrong way to look at it.

IC: Figures like de Blasio and Elizabeth Warren have been saying that inequality should be the focus of the party. Is inequality looking backwards or forwards?

RE: I think about this as a mayor. We have a great city. The principal reason is the people. We have very strong middle-class neighborhoods. The big challenge is the cities that become bell curves without the bell. I know Elizabeth says, “We are going to be the party of income inequality.” I want to stand up for the middle class.

What we do with parks and public safety makes neighborhoods viable. You are in the city with the fastest-growing business district. The problem is whether it can still be livable with literally just the extremes. I will forget all the others talking about where the party should go. I am not interested in that.

Urgent: Do You Approve Or Disapprove of President Obama's Job Performance? Vote Now in Urgent Poll

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