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Rahm Emanuel agrees to be chief of staff

By A. James Memmott

November 5, 2008 at 4:31pm

Fresh from his victory Tuesday, Sen. Barack Obama has tapped a fellow Chicagoan to be the White House enforcer.

Rep. Rahm Emanuel, D-Ill., announced today that he had agreed to be the president-elect’s chief of staff.

It may be a case of opposites attracting, the eloquent and ever-calm Obama signing up a blunt and combative fellow Chicagoan.

“Obama wants a bad cop, so he can be good cop 90 percent of the time,” an unnamed Obama adviser told Politico.

The fourth-ranking Democrat in the House of Representatives, Emanuel, 48, was first elected in 2002. He won re-election Tuesday with nearly 74 percent of the vote.

In 2006, he was the driving force behind his party’s successful effort to take back the House in 2006.

As the head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, he vetted potential challengers to Republican candidates, making sure they had the money or could raise the money to run a real race.

His style, by all reports, did not include playing nice.

“Emanuel is hard-wired to go for the jugular,” Nina Easton wrote in Fortune at the time. “Politics Chicago-style are part of his DNA.”

Given that DNA, it’s not surprising that Emanuel has Democratic, as well as Republican, detractors.

“I love Rahm, but that’s a small group of us,” Democratic operative Paul Begala told Easton. “He’s not a beloved figure like Tip O’Neill or Dick Gephardt. Rahm’s there (at the DCCC) because they want to
win.”

When Emanuel joins Obama, he will be returning to a familiar workplace, as he served as a senior adviser in the Clinton White House from 1993 to 1998.

Before that, Emanuel was director of finance in Bill Clinton’s first presidential campaign.

In January 1999, Emanuel left politics, joining the investment bank then known as Wasserstein Perella & Co. In four years, he made a reported $18 million before leaving banking to run for Congress.

Given his connections to Bill and Hillary Clinton and his friendship with Barack and Michelle Obama, Emanuel has emerged as a link between two factions in the Democratic Party.

“There are people that know the Obamas better than Rahm does, there are probably people who know the Clintons better than Rahm does,” Ryan Lizza of The New Yorker magazine said this spring in introducing Emanuel in a video interview.

“But I don’t think there’s anyone in American politics that knows both the Clintons and the Obamas better than Rahm does.”

This dual connection left Emanuel, a superdelegate to the Democratic National Convention, unwilling to choose between Obama and Hillary Clinton until the primary season was over.

He endorsed Obama in June after Clinton conceded defeat and went on to work on Obama’s behalf.

In May, Emanuel told Lizza that he believed Obama’s first few weeks in office, if he were elected, would focus on the passage of the children’s health bill that President Bush vetoed last year.

“You want to show you can get something done,” Emanuel said.

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