President Obama clearly wants Rahm Emanuel to wait until after the November elections to leave the White House to run for mayor of Chicago.
“He is an excellent chief of staff. I think right now, as long as he is in the White House, he is critically focused on making sure that we’re creating jobs for families around the country and rebuilding our economy,” Obama told George Stephanopoulos on Good Morning America. “And you know, the one thing I’ve always been impressed with about Rahm is that when he has a job to do, he focuses on the job in front of him. And so my expectation is, he’d make a decision after these midterm elections. He knows that we’ve got a lot of work to do. But I think he’d be a terrific mayor.”
But if Emanuel wants to run for mayor, what Obama should do instead is hustle his vulgarity-prone chief of staff onto Air Force One and return him to the Windy City without delay.
Obama appears to want to choose stability to get him through the coming election which appears to be a tough one for his party. But, in fact, he would be much better served all around if he began a wholesale West Wing shake-up today.
Let me be clear: I urge Emanuel’s quick departure out of no ill will or feeling toward him personally or politically. I certainly have not always agreed with him, but unlike others on the Left, I think Emanuel has made valuable contributions.
The former congressman clearly has had a lot to do with a string of Obama successes, including last year’s stimulus, up through healthcare reform, banking reform and more. And, of course, without Emanuel, Democrats today might not have won the majority that this year they so dearly need to defend.
That said, if Emanuel wants to try for his dream job at City Hall, then the time for him to make the move is before, not after, Americans go to the polls.
Consider the timing of George W. Bush’s decision to replace Donald Rumsfeld. Bush waited to fire his secretary of defense until the day after Democrats retook Congress in 2006. Republicans became angry because they argued that they could have at least kept the Senate if Bush had let Rumsfeld go earlier.
Rummy, after all, had become the personification of a war in Iraq that was going poorly and had become a major reason for Democrats winning that year.
Now, Rahm Emanuel is no Don Rumsfeld. Unlike Rumsfeld, who became a celebrity in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, few Americans could even identify Emanuel on a street corner.
Emanuel’s presence, or non-presence, in the administration is not going to be a major campaign issue.
His departure, however, could set off a broader housecleaning within the West Wing that would appeal to a very necessary voting bloc, the part of the Democratic Party that press secretary Robert Gibbs derided as the “professional left.”
It’s no secret that liberals aren’t as motivated to turn out to vote this year as they were in the past, and that that could be big trouble for Democrats who need to hold onto the House and Senate.
“The problem is the enthusiasm gap,” former Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean is quoted as saying. “If you treat people like that, they’re not likely to respond in a warm and fuzzy way.”
“Part of it is the kind of in-your-face attitude of the White House staff, and I’m not just talking about Rahm,” Dean adds. “I think it’s pretty universal.”
Bringing in a new chief of staff now, one with progressive ties, could convince enough liberals to come out to vote so as to save Nancy Pelosi’s and Harry Reid’s political bacon.
The change would have another positive effect. That new official could help reshape Obama’s economic team sooner rather than later given the vacancy already created by economist Christina Romer’s departure, and the future of top adviser Lawrence Summers unknown.
Not only could this reshuffling reap further political benefits for Obama and his fellow Democrats, it could also help the White House get a jump on the additional economic fixes that this economy clearly needs sooner, rather than later.
Scott Nance has covered Congress and the federal government for more than a decade. Capitol Idea is his regular column from Washington. This article was first published as Send Rahm Packing — Now on Blogcritics.