President-elect Barack Obama has named Illinois congressman Rahm Emanuel as his chief of staff. In picking the former Clinton administration staffer, Obama appears to be sending an early message that the West Wing of the White House will take a very pragmatic and centrist approach to governing come January. A fellow Chicagoan, Emanuel gives the new President a Washington insider to guide his team and a Windy City confidant.
Known for playing hardball politics, and offending some in his own party as well as Republicans, Emanuel, as chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, was widely given credit as the force behind orchestrating the Democrat’s taking control of the House of Representatives during the 2006 election cycle. After that election Emanuel was chosen by his colleagues as the chairman of the Democratic Caucus, making him the fourth ranking Democrat in the House.
Emanuel served as a senior adviser to President Bill Clinton from 1993 to 1998, and was involved in developing the strategy behind many of the administration’s initiatives, including the ill-fated effort to push universal health care. Upon leaving the White House Emanuel went to the private sector and worked for investment banking firm Dresdner Kleinwort in Chicago. He also served on the Board of Director of the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation, or “Freddie Mac,” from 2000 until 2004. As a managing partner at Dresdner Kleinwort, Emanuel reportedly earned a considerable sum of money that allowed him to return to the political arena. In 2002 he ran for Congress and won the seat formerly held by Rod Blagojevich, who successfully ran for governor of Illinois. He was the only member of the Illinois House delegation to support the 2002 joint Congressional resolution authorizing the war in Iraq.
Emanuel’s views are generally center-right and he has largely aligned himself with the centrist Democratic Leadership Council (DLC), the think tank that former President Clinton helped establish as a leading voice in party politics. By selecting Emanuel, President-elect Obama is also sending a message to the Jewish community. The new chief of staff’s father was born in Israel and was a former member of a militant Zionist organization. Emanuel had Israeli citizenship due to his father’s dual citizen status but he relinquished it when he turned 18. A strong supporter of Israel, Emanuel served as a civilian volunteer in the Israel Defense Forces during the 1991 Persian Gulf War. He is a strong supporter of the pro-Israel American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and helped introduce President-elect Obama to the organization’s leadership during the campaign.