Interview with Rahm Emanuel

Interview with Rahm Emanuel

Larry King Live - March 24, 2009

LARRY KING, HOST: And we're going to continue it with the obvious question -- did the American public buy what the president was selling tonight? First up is Rahm Emanuel, the White House chief of staff.

He joins us from the Briefing Room.

He's an old friend from even New York days.


L. KING: It's good to see you, Rahm.

EMANUEL: It's good to see you, Larry.

How are you?

L. KING: All right.

Do we know or will you know tomorrow what the public thought of this?

We know what the pundits are saying.


L. KING: What about the public?


EMANUEL: Well, look, I think even before today's press conference, we know that the public supports where the president is on the sense of his goal for the economy, that he's focused on the economy and his agenda for it, which is to have increase -- increased investments in the alternative energy field, to bring health care costs down and to make sure that we have the best trained workers to compete in the 21st century.

That is his long-term economic agenda. And whether it's dealing with the financial sector, dealing with investments in education, health care or energy, or as well as other aspects of the economy, making sure that this economy is growing, moving, getting jobs again -- that they will walk away -- and I think they have a sense that every day he walks into that office, he rolls up his sleeves and gets to work on behalf of the American people to make sure that they have the jobs, the health care and the ability to make sure that they can provide for their family.

L. KING: Was there anything he wasn't asked tonight that you expected him -- I know when you do briefings before...

EMANUEL: Well, it is a...

L. KING: come up that didn't come up?

EMANUEL: Well, you noted it a little earlier as I was listening in. There was, you know, there wasn't any questions about Iraq. We still have about 140,000 -- 150,000 American troops there. There wasn't a question about Afghanistan.

He brought up Iran. There was a question about Mexico. There were other questions on other topics that could have been asked that obviously we do preparation.

But the reason the questions were so focused on the economy is because that's the number one focus for the American people and that's the number one focus for the president.

I mean it's totally legit. There are other things related to overseas matters as the -- as a total topic. But the primary issue, -- also, obviously, the Mideast was asked, in addition to Mexico.

But the primary focus for the country is getting the economy moving. And it's appropriate that it be the dominant question, as well as the focus of the president's answers.

L. KING: Is this media blitz, Rahm, are there any negatives to this?

Can you be overexposed?

EMANUEL: You know, the negative is that I have to do this show rather than go home and have dinner. That's one negative, Larry.

L. KING: Thanks a lot, Rahm.


EMANUEL: No. The...


EMANUEL: No, I had -- look, I think in this troubled time, first of all, the Ameri -- the American people expect the president to talk to -- talk to them, walk them through his thinking, why he makes the decisions he makes, what are the tradeoffs to those decisions and carries them through this process of this troubled time.

And you can say there may be overexposed, but I think, in fact, if you watch and see, there have been greater audiences for the shows that he's been on to answer the questions, because these are the questions the American people are asking around their kitchen table. They are talking about whether they can afford health care. They are talking about whether when their child makes a different decision for education, that is, decides not to go to X school but will stay home and go to another school, they're facing those challenges and those challenges are reflected in the choices that he's making.

And I think they're very engaged in this conversation. They'll make a decision if they think it's too much. They have, obviously, other choices. But I think if you look at to date and look at the data, they are involved in this conversation and interested in this dialogue and appreciate an adult conversation with them about the choices they're making and the choices that their government and their elected leaders are making on their behalf.

L. KING: Rahm, the president was pressed by our own Ed Henry tonight about the AIG mess.

Let's take a look.


HENRY: Why did you wait days to come out and express that outrage?

OBAMA: All right...

HENRY: It seems like the action is coming out of New York and the attorney general's office. It took you days to come public with Secretary Geithner and say, look, we're outraged.

Why did it take so long?

OBAMA: It took us a couple days because I like to know what I'm talking about before I speak.


L. KING: Frankly, Rahm, has the president misjudged the public's anger over AIG?

EMANUEL: No. In fact, I think he appropriately said on Monday of last week, exactly how he understood their frustration and anger with the sense that if the economy and the financial stability is fragile and it requires taxpayer support, it's also got to be fragile enough for the very employees and their own sense of contribution and sacrifice to help AIG get better. And I think he expressed himself last Monday directly with that frustration, as well as with the sense of what we've got to do to get the financial stability to the entire financial system so the economy can grow again, small businesses can get loans, students can get loans to go to college and families can buy homes and get the mortgages they can afford so they can buy their homes.

That is the process here. That is the priority. The president did acknowledge...

L. KING: All right...

EMANUEL: ...and was -- not only acknowledged, aligned himself with that sense of frustration by the taxpayers, that if we're going to make the sacrifices to help stabilize the situation, everybody has got to make sacrifices to achieve that goal.

L. KING: A few more things.


L. KING: On Monday, Rahm, the president finally announced nominees for three key jobs at Treasury.

What's taking so long?

The word we get -- and Gloria Borger, our senior political analyst, reported this -- that there's a maddening -- a maddening vetting process at the White House.

Is that true?

EMANUEL: Well, no. Every White House has a -- goes through a vetting process. We nominated some people at Treasury. The top three out of four positions at Treasury are filled. And we'll have more submissions in the days to come for that.

But you're doing the appropriate thing in the sense of vetting. And that is going through making sure these are the right people, the right choices. We would like to move faster and I'm sure the Senate would like to move faster. And just today, they confirmed our secretary of Commerce, which we're appreciative of.

L. KING: Do you like this job?


EMANUEL: Yes. I find it -- well, you know, Larry. I love public service. I was fortunate enough to work for President Clinton in the White House. I was fortunate enough when the folks on the North Side of Chicago decided to elect me as their representative and fortunate enough to come back and work for President Obama.

And these are all people, whether they're my constituents or the president, that I'm very lucky to work for. And I do like it.

As you know, my family is back in Chicago. And I have three young kids. And I cannot wait until they move to Washington. It has been very tough on the family, but I find the work unbelievably rewarding.

L. KING: What -- but in a major piece on you in "The New Yorker," a mostly favorable piece, it did kind of say -- not reading between the lines -- that you wanted to stay in Congress, that they had to really stress the importance of your coming to the White House.

You preferred Congress, true?

EMANUEL: Well, look, in this sense, yes. I prefer -- I very much enjoyed Congress. It's not today that I say prefer having been in Congress. I think -- you know, my father came to this country in 1959. I think it's very fortunate that I have gotten the chance to work both in the White House and in senior positions twice and got elected from the north -- the west side of the City of Chicago.

And, as you know, Larry, when somebody -- when the folks elect you, you have some kind of obligation to follow through on that choice that they made. I put my name up and they elected me. And so there was that sense of breaking of a contract that I had with the people on the north side of Chicago who not elected me -- not once, not twice, not three times, but a fourth time.

But in the choices you make in your life, I don't regret any of the choices that I've made in the public life, either going to work in the White House, going to work in Congress or coming back. They are all rewarding.

As you know, you and I have had this conversation many, many times. When I think of all the things in which you can make some change in people's lives, some effect, where you can do something to give something back to your country, which is a value my parents raised me with, and my brothers, I think I'm very fortunate to have all those opportunities of public service.

And I not only don't regret them, I think I'm fortunate to have them. And I'm fortunate that my parents are alive to see it.

L. KING: OK. One other quick thing.

What's the toughest part about being chief of staff?

EMANUEL: What's the toughest part about being chief of staff?

Well, it's -- you know, I get up at 5:30 and I will not get home until 10:30. And you do that seven days a week. As I always like to joke around the White House, on Friday, I say good. It's just two more workdays until Monday.


L. KING: We'll see you soon.

EMANUEL: All right, Larry.

L. KING: Rahm, thanks so much.

EMANUEL: Thank you very much.

See you, buddy.

L. KING: Rahm Emanuel, the White House chief of staff. And we thank him very much for joining us following this press conference.

Larry King Live


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