Yesterday President Obama announced his own health care plan for the first time. The $950 billion plan lays the groundwork for his televised summit with Congressional Republicans and Democrats this Thursday, and we'll write more about it throughout the week.
However, the focus for today is about White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, who has been a source of extreme views from many of Obama's more liberal supporters since he was named to his post shortly after Obama beat John McCain nearly a year and a half ago.
Regarding the just announced health care plan, The Wall Street Journal reports that Emanuel had been arguing that Obama should produce a "skinny bill", in reaction to Scott Brown's victory in the Massachusetts U.S. Senate race last month. Brown won in part by campaigning against the health care bill that passed the Senate on Christmas eve.
But the President rejected Rahm's advice. A source told the Journal that "Rahm strongly believes that incremental reform is all that can (and should) be done."
Meanwhile, after after former NY Times columnist and the Council on Foreign Relations president emeritus, Leslie Gelb, wrote a stinging article on the Daily Beast Web site last week calling for Obama to fire some people to shake up his administration (including moving Emanuel to a different position, as well as canning Larry Summers and Jim Jones) , the Washington Post's Dana Milbank over the weekend wrote an article that defended "Rahm-bo"l, and essentially pissed on the White House.
Obama's first year fell apart in large part because he didn't follow his chief of staff's advice on crucial matters. Arguably, Emanuel is the only person keeping Obama from becoming Jimmy Carter.
Obama chose the profane former Clinton adviser for a reason. Where the president is airy and idealistic, Rahm is earthy and calculating. One thinks big; the other, a former House Democratic Caucus chair, understands the congressional mind, in which small stuff counts for more than broad strokes.
Obama's problem is that his other confidants -- particularly Valerie Jarrett and Robert Gibbs, and, to a lesser extent, David Axelrod -- are part of the Cult of Obama. In love with the president, they believe he is a transformational figure who needn't dirty his hands in politics.
Milbank writes that Obama should have followed Emanuel's desire for a "skinny health care bill," because that would have then allowed the President to do so many of the other things that he desires:
The president disregarded that strategy and sided with Capitol Hill liberals who hoped to ram a larger, less popular bill through Congress with Democratic votes only. The result was, as the world now knows, disastrous.
Had it gone Emanuel's way, a politically popular health-care bill would have passed long ago, leaving plenty of time for other attractive priorities, such as efforts to make college more affordable. We would have seen a continuation of the momentum of the first half of 2009, when Obama followed Emanuel's strategy and got 11 substantive bills on his desk before the August recess.
Instead, Congress has ground to a halt, on climate legislation, Wall Street reforms and virtually everything else. Emanuel, schooled by Bill Clinton, knew what the true believers didn't: that bite-sized proposals add up to big things.
In classic Washington insider journalism, Leslie Gelb has a new piece on the Daily Beast's Web site this morning, where he challenges Milbank and his source, claiming it must be someone extremely close to Emanuel who leaked such opinions. Gelb writes today:
The leak was so egregious, so anti-Chicago crowd minus Rahm, so devastating to the president, that Emanuel couldnt have been stupid enough to leak a story where he was the sole, surviving hero. Remember, too, that my piece did not recommend kicking Rahm out of the White House, just sliding him over into a political adviser job where he could practice small-bite pragmatism. Maybe someone didnt want Rahm around the White House at all, in any position. Maybe the leaker thought the way to get rid of Rahm completely was to brand him as a traitor to the boss. Maybe the leaker belonged to that contingent of self-mutilating liberal Democrats who have always viewed Rahm as too centrist and pragmatic.
But the kicker is that Milbank says he never talked to Rahm for his column. What's this all mean? It looks like there's some serious infighting going on in the "no-drama Obama" White House, and that does not augur well as the President fights the various issues that confront the country in this winter of 2010. It also indicates that historically, administrations do end up firing people at different stages. The fact that Gelb is the first somewhat sympathetic journalist to call for some heads to roll is indicative of how Washington really does work. Over the course of the past year, Timothy Geithner, Larry Summers, Emanuel, Janet Napolitano, Eric Holder and John Brennan have all been mentioned by critics on the left and right as deserving to get booted from the White House. None have - yet. But looking back at other White Houses, especially those who are perceived to be struggling, and it's only a matter of time. If Rahm Emanuel goes, at least he already has some Washington reporters - in advance - getting his back.