Representative Rahm Emanuel, Chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, speaks at The Brookings Institution about politics, government and the implications of the firing of eight U.S. Attorneys.
First elected to the House of Representatives in 2002, Rep. Emanuel is now the fourth-highest ranking member of the congressional leadership and is responsible for coordinating the new majority's approach to a wide range of public policy issues. He is the co-author of The Plan: Big Ideas for America (Public Affairs, 2006) and served as a top White House advisor to President William J. Clinton before returning to Chicago and entering elective politics.
Pietro Nivola, vice president and director of Governance Studies, introduces Rep. Emanuel. Senior Fellow Thomas Mann moderates a question and answer session at the conclusion of his remarks.
Representative Rahm Emanuel
Rahm Emanuel has represented the 5th District of Illinois in the US House of Representatives from 2003 until his resignation in 2009. Rep. Emanuel serves on the House Ways and Means Committee, which oversees taxes, trade, Social Security, and Medicare issues, and he is chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. In January 2007, he was elected to serve as Democratic Caucus chair. He began his career with the consumer rights organization Illinois Public Action. He worked on Paul Simonâ€™s 1984 election to the US Senate and in 1989 served as a senior advisor and chief fund-raiser for Richard M. Daley. He also served as a senior advisor to President Bill Clinton. After leaving the White House, he returned to Chicago to serve as a managing director at a leading global investment bank.
Thomas E. Mann
Thomas E. Mann is the W. Averell Harriman Chair and Senior Fellow in Governance Studies at The Brookings Institution.
The author of numerous books on American government, and a contributor to major magazines and newspapers like Washington Post and New York Times, Mann is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.
Mann has served as co-director (with Ornstein) of the Transition to Governing Project and senior counselor (with Ornstein) to the Continuity of Government Commission.
Lecturer and Visiting Professor, Harvard University; Associate Professor, University of Vermont; Research Associate, Guest Scholar, and Visiting Fellow, Brookings.
Good morning. It's my pleasure to introduce Congressman Rahm Emanuel of Illinois this morningCongressman Emanuel is the Chairman of the House DemocraticCaucus, as you know. He also sits on the House's most prestigious committee . Waysand Means. Before being elected to Congress, Congressman Emanuel was the keyadvisor to President Clinton and played a big part in many of the ClintonAdministration's most important initiatives and accomplishments, including welfarereform, the ratification of the North American Free Trade Agreement, the 1993 budgetagreement, the 1994 Crime Bill, and efforts to expand health insurance for uninsuredchildren. Representative Emanuel chaired the Democratic Congressional CampaignCommittee in the months leading up to last fall's election.As many of you know, the political parties in this country have beenplaying a much more proactive and centralized role in slating candidates for office thanthey did perhaps a generation or so ago. The smart selection of candidates . thanks Ithink to Congressman Emanuel's sound centrist instincts . went a long way to securingthe Democratic Party's substantial gains in last November's election.Mr. Emanuel is also a co-author of a recent book with Bruce Reed, called The Plan: Big Ideas for AmericaWe hope you'll say a few words about that perhaps in the course of your remarks today.We really look forward to the Congressman's assessment of thedifferent policymaking styles of the Clinton Administration and the Bush Administration,both styles and substance, which is what I gather he'll be addressing today. He'll thenhave some questions by Tom Mann, my colleague . and brace yourselves that someof them are tough. It's wonderful to have you here, and welcome.Good morning. Pietro, thank you very much for those kind words. It's momentslike that you wish your mother and father were here because you know your motherwould be proud and your father would be amazed. So, thank you very much.I want to thank the Brookings Institution for the invitation.My mother always warned me that one day I may end up in an institution.I don't think this is exactly what she had in mind.In all seriousness, Brookings has a long and well-deserved reputationfor its studies of government and public policy, with the goal of giving us a betterunderstanding of the things that are working and those that are not. That's why I thinkthis is such an appropriate forum for the observations I have come to share with you today.And let me preface the discussion by stating the obvious: I don't think "politics" is adirty word. And some of you who know me, like Tom, know I know something aboutdirty words. Politics is a vital and essential element of our political system, the vehicleby which we advance our governing principles and policies. Believe me, I'm not naive.President Clinton made me a top aide in the White House not because of my goodlooks or charm and not because I was a top policy expert. No, I got to the WhiteHouse the same way he did, through politics. And I'm not one who believes you canever fully divorce politics from policy in a democracy, and it would be bad to do that.It would be like trying to separate physics from math or trying to do physics withoutmath. Yet, I've always recognized that there's a basic balance, that we should neverallow the basic functions and solemn responsibilities of government to be subjugated toor take a backseat to politics or party interest.President Bush came to the White House with an entirely differentunderstanding. Not since the days of Watergate when our judicial system andintelligence community were deployed by the White House in the service of partisanpolitics have we seen such, in my view, abuses; and in many ways, what we have seenfrom this Administration is far more extensive than that scandal. Partisan politics hasinfiltrated every level of our federal government . from scientific reports on globalwarming to emergency management services to the prosecutorial power of the federalgovernment itself. Even the war in Iraq . from our entry to the reconstruction . hasbeen thoroughly politicized and manipulated. Recently, even those who have becomesomewhat inured to the intense partisanship of this Administration were shocked by thepolitical manipulation of our U.S. attorneys, and we have just begun to feel the impactof this scandal. Just as Hurricane Katrina exposed the issue of incompetence, theU.S. attorney scandal has placed a spotlight on the Administration's pattern of alwaysplacing the Republican Party's interests before the national or public interest. I believethat the U.S. attorney scandal will be to public corruption what Hurricane Katrina was to competency.The scandal has created a new context of viewing and evaluating thescandals in this Administration. Americans have learned just how the BushAdministration works and are discovering that under President Bush no function ofthe federal government is free from the influence of politics. And this is no accident.It is all by design. The incidents I will list today are not a laundry list of one-off's orisolated cases. There is a common denominator. Instead of promoting solutions toour nation's broad challenges, the Bush Administration has used all the levers ofpower to promote their party and its narrow interests.During the 2000 presidential campaign, Karl Rove often drew ananalogy between that election and the election of 1896 in which advisor Mark Hannajoined the forces with many of the plutocrats of the Gilded age and ushered in a 35year era of Republican dominance, dominance that did not end until the election ofFranklin Delano Roosevelt. Without a trace of reserve, George Bush and Karl Roveset out to recreate an earlier era of one-party rule, and they pursued their goal byinverting, in my view, the very purpose of government.Under this Administration, the federal government has become astepchild of the Republican Party, and in promoting its partisan interests, absolutelynothing is out of bounds . from our national security to our justice system andeverything in between. Principals and supporters of the Bush Administration havetaken to attributing its myriad failures to mere incompetence. That is an ironicdefense for an Administration that once touted President Bush as the first MBApresident and then boasted about a cabinet filled with CEOs and MBAs.In his appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee last week, theAttorney General denied politics was involved in his firing of the eightU.S. Attorneys. Instead, he suggested that the dismissals were just poorly handled or apublic relations failure. The Attorney General could offer no coherent explanation forthe mess, because to do so would unveil the guiding principle at the core of this WhiteHouse, insinuating partisan politics into every aspect of government and bringing politicsinto what had used to be a political-free zone . the Justice Department.Even today, after three months of interviews, investigations, hearings, and publicdiscussion, we still do not know who drafted the list of theU.S. Attorneys to be fired. We've been left with only three logical explanations for thedismissals. First, there were 93 names put in the hat, and these seven were drawn by random.Second, they originally hired eight incompetent U.S. Attorneys. Third, Youbelieve that public corruption, as explained at the election, was the cause for the failures. for basically the loss to the House and the Senate. And then you have got to stopand stem the bleeding of those public corruption cases.And until we hold hearings, we will never find out whether they wererandomly selected . as one plausible explanation; second, that they were incompetentU.S. Attorneys who were originally selected; or, third, as I think, if you look today atthe Wall Street Journal story and other examples, that in fact something else was goingon here because of the cases that these individuals were bringing, and we will neverhave that answer until the hearings are fully incomplete (sic).In my view, they had a plan, which they told us about. They carried itout. And now America is paying the price for that plan. This is exactly what they saidthey were going to do, and the only difference is there had been no accountability foranother branch of government to bring heat to this.From the very beginning, the Bush Administration has seeded thegovernment with highly partisan appointees . people more interested in serving theirparty than the broader pubic interest. Almost every senior Bush appointee to the EPAand Interior Department has come out of the very industries they regulate and whichgenerously funded the Republican Party. As Jim Hightower has noted, theAdministration eliminated the middleman. The corporations don't have to lobby thegovernment, because they are the government. This cronyism transcends theregulatory agencies. The Bush Administration even laced FEMA with politicaloperatives rather than people with experience handling emergencies. There were earlysigns, not heeded, that this administration would be driven by partisan politics, notpublic policy. In Ron Suskind's book, "The Price of Loyalty," former TreasurySecretary Paul O'Neill complained that he couldn't interest anyone in policydiscussions at the White House, because it was populated with political operativesrather than policy experts. Even the President's highly touted faith-based initiativeturned out to be a purely political play. The two top leaders of the new office both quitin frustration. John DiIulio, Jr., left after being forced to work in a White House that helikened to . and this is his quote . "the reign of the Mayberry Machiavellis."Former Deputy Director David . and I may be mispronouncing his name so Iapologize . Kuo later alleged that then-White House political affairs director KenMehlman knowingly participated in a scheme to use that government office tomobilize religious voters in 20 targeted congressional races of which the Republicanswon 19. This is inside. I've got to tell you, Tammany Hall had nothing on thisAdministration. The Bush Administration has redefined the famous challenge ofPresident Kennedy's inaugural address. Instead of "Ask not what your country cando for you," it's become "Ask what your government can do for our party."It's true that Franklin Roosevelt started an era of Democraticdomination of politics in Washington that lasted well into the '60s. Roosevelt forged alasting political coalition by conquering the economic blight of the Great Depression anduniting our nation and its mission in World War II and to take on Hitler and thetotalitarianism of his administration . not administration but his brain. The DemocraticParty reaped the political dividends of successfully confronting those dual nationalchallenges. That was a different model of governing. There was a political benefit forhaving done government well.In contrast, the Bush Administration has ignored the great challengesof our day, and for six years, in my view, the Legislative Branch was complicit in thisscheme. Now our country is paying the price.Let's begin with the biggest issue facing our nation: the war in Iraq.We now know that when the CIA and other intelligence agencies failed to findevidence to justify the President's rationale for war, the Administration browbeat theCIA to tailor its intelligence. Vice President Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, theSecretary of Defense, even set up their own intelligence arm to provide the desiredevidence. When form Ambassador Joseph Wilson cast doubt on the Administration'scontention that Saddam was trying to uranium in Niger for a nuclear weapon, theVice President's chief of staff, "Scooter" Libby, embarked on a smear campaign byleaking the identity of Wilson's wife, an undercover CIA officer. Once the Iraq warwas launched, we all knew how important the reconstruction would be to securingthe peace. Politics extended to the reconstruction. The person chosen to overseeIraq's health care system was the community health director for the formerRepublican governor of Michigan. The individual he replaced was a physician with amaster's degree in public health and post-graduate degrees from Harvard, Yale,Dartmouth, and University of California . Berkeley, and taught at Johns HopkinsSchool of Public Health where he specialized in disaster response. A 24-year-oldwith a background in commercial real estate was hired by the Authority to reopenand manage the Iraqi stock exchange. The daughter of a prominent neoconservativewas tapped to manage Iraq's $13 billion annual budget. Nothing was free frompolitical influence. Politically connected individuals weren't the only beneficiaries ofthe Administration's Iraq operations. Before the invasion of Iraq, Halliburton'ssubsidiary was granted a $7 billion classified contract to restore the country's oilfields. Halliburton then went on to overcharge the government and its taxpayers by ahundred million dollars. The Administration's coziness with corporations extends tothe treatment of our injured veterans. Last year, a company called IAP WorldwideServices won a $120 million contract to privatize management at Walter Reed. IAPis owned by a firm chaired by former Bush Treasury Secretary John Snow and haspolitical ties to Congressman Jerry Lewis, the former Republican chairman of the Appropriations Committee.Everyone knows about the Vice President's secret energy task forcemeetings with top executives from the energy industry, but science and sound policyhave also taken a backseat to political considerations when it comes to thegovernment's findings on global warming. The New York Times reported that whenPhil Cooney served as the chief of staff for the White House Council on EnvironmentalQuality, he removed or adjusted or edited descriptions of scientific research todownplay the links between emission and global warming. Before joining the BushAdministration, Cooney worked for the American Petroleum Institute. After resigninghis government post, he went to work for Exxon-Mobil.Bush Administration officials even vacation with energy lobbyists. TheJustice Department's former top environmental prosecutor, Sue Ellen Wooldridge,recently bought a beach house with an energy lobbyist and Steven Griles, a former BushAdministration official who pled guilty in the Abramoff case.From legislation to government reports to oversight, the energy industry, one of the top GOP contributors,has gotten what they needed and asked for.Even federal efforts to help students learn and afford college aren't offlimits. The Washington Post recently reported that Matteo Fontana, a senior official inthe Department of Education's financial aid office, owned about $100,000 worth ofstock in a student loan company that has been subpoenaed by New York officials. Lastweekend, we learned that an investigation into President Bush's Reading First programand allegations that officials improperly profited when implementing the program and thecase this week was just referred to the Justice Department.The Bush Administration memorably demonstrated its willingness toenrich those who carry out its political agenda. Seeking to build support for the LeaveNo Child Behind program, the Administration paid Armstrong Williams $24,000 intaxpayers' money to promote the legislation on his TV show.And I also . I agree . I think one of the more egregious misuses ofpublic funds took place around the Administration's budget-busting Medicareprescription drug bill. The nonpartisan GAO concluded that the Department of Healthand Human Services illegally spent federal money to produce videos made to look likenews reports and distribute them to TV stations across America.After the bill was passed, it was revealed that the Administrationpurposely withheld information from Congress on the true cost of the prescription drugbill. Richard S. Foster, Medicare's chief actuary for two Administrations, said that BushAdministration officials had threatened to fire him if he disclosed that the drug planwould cost hundreds of billions more than President . his staff was telling Congress. Inshort, Richard Foster would be fired if he did his job.Perhaps the most thoroughly politicized bureau of the federalgovernment is the GSA . General Services Administration . a large agency chargedwith procuring supplies and managing federal properties. Former Chief of Staff DavidSafavian was convicted of covering up his efforts to assist Jack Abramoff in acquiringtwo properties controlled by the GSA. Safavian was convicted of concealing factsabout a lavish week-long golf trip he took with Jack Abramoff to Scotland and London,a trip that included Congressman Bob Ney.The current head of the GSA is Lurita Doan, a former governmentcontractor, who has donated tens of thousands of dollars to the Republican Party. OnJanuary 26th of this year, Doan took part in a meeting at the GSA that included 40regional administrators by videoconference. At this meeting, political director J. ScottJennings gave a PowerPoint presentation on the 2006 elections. The Washington Postreported that one slide named 20 Democrats in Congress the Republicans will try todefeat in 2008. Another slide listed Republican Congressmen the party wants toprotect. According to the Post, Ms. Doan asked the assembled governmentemployees how they could "help our candidates" in the next election.Of course, it's illegal for political activity of this kind to occur in afederal office. At a House hearing last month, Ms. Doan claimed she couldn't recall theslide presentation or making the remarks that were attributed to her by variousRepublican appointees who were in attendance. Now, the Office of Special Counsel isinvestigating this matter.The most vivid example of this Administration's corruption, and the onethat revealed its true cost to the American people, was the fumbling of the Katrinadisaster. Under President Clinton, FEMA was run by James Lee Witt, a politicalappointee and a man with years of experience in disaster management. But the BushAdministration chose to staff the sensitive agency with unqualified political appointees.The President first appointed his 2000 campaign manager, JoeAllbaugh, to run FEMA. Joe hired his long-time friend, Michael Brown, as theAgency's general counsel. Michael Brown had no emergency managementexperience, having served as an attorney for the International Arabian HorseAssociation. Joe Allbaugh left in early 2003, and the President named MichaelBrown to replace him. When the Gulf Coast was hit by the worst natural disaster inU.S. history, FEMA, one of the best agencies in the federal government in the year2000, and only four years after 911, was woefully unprepared to provide theneeded assistance. Now, millions of Americans are continuing to suffer terribleconsequences, and FEMA has left behind a striking legacy of mismanagement.Even FEMA's attempt to take modest action failed. After purchasing thousands oftrailers for t hose displaced by the hurricane, those very trailers continue to sit emptyin Arkansas. FEMA had no plan to move the trailers to the communities where they were needed.Now, there's nothing wrong with political appointees. James Lee Witt,whom I mentioned earlier, was a political appointee who's also qualified to run FEMA.And I want to go back. Alexander Hamilton was a political appointee. He's a verygood, qualified person for being the first Secretary of the Treasury. Harold Ickes, Sr.,was a political appointee, a key architect of the New Deal that helped our nationemerge from the Great Depression.Political appointees are not inherently corrupt or wrong. The differenceis that these appointees that I just mentioned were well qualified for their positions, andthey put the welfare of the nation ahead of purely partisan interest, and judged by thosecriteria few of the President's appointees would pass that test.We've all focused on the recent firings of the eight U.S. Attorneys. Theydid not come out of the blue. There were a number of examples of politicalconsideration overriding the work of Justice Department lawyers that should havewoken us all up earlier. The removal of the U.S. Attorneys for political reasons, in myview, is not a new occurrence. In 2002, a grand jury in Guam opened an investigationinto Jack Abramoff's secret arrangement to block a bill threatening his clients in the U.S.territories. Just days later, the U.S. Attorney who launched the probe was demotedafter more than a decade in office. A report by the Interior Department's InspectorGeneral later concluded that Abramoff had actively lobbied for his dismissal and had apipeline into the White House to accomplish that goal. And he wasn't shy aboutreaching out to the White House for help. While the White House initially told us thatJack Abramoff only occasionally or infrequently reached out to the White House, welater learned he contacted the White House 485 times. You can see the beginnings of ascandal: A U.S. Attorney was removed who wasn't . and I quote . "a loyal Bushie."Sharon Eubanks, a 22-year veteran career Justice Department lawyerwho led the Justice Department team that prosecuted the landmark lawsuit againsttobacco companies, told the Washington Post that three political appointees in theAttorney General's office undermined the government's case in the final weeks of the2005 trial, which cost the federal government billions of dollars.Now we've learned that political considerations were behind thedismissal of the eight U.S. Attorneys across the country, including some members whowere actively investigating Republican members of Congress. Recently released e-mailsbetween the staff at the Justice Department and the staff at the White House show thatloyalty to President Bush and pressure from political figures led to the firings.In the course of the ongoing congressional investigations, we have alsolearned that the White House staffers, including Karl Rove, have used e-mail addressesissued by the Republican National Committee. And I have a simple question as aperson who worked in the White House: Why? Why did government officials need apolitical tool to conduct business and daily governing each day? Of course, partycomputers are necessary when a president and his operation are running for reelection.But are they still necessary two years later when the President had no campaign aheadof him? Those e-mail accounts were only necessary because politics was so deeplyengrained in the administration's normal course of business. You only need a computersystem paid for by the Republican National Committee for day-to-day operations if infact politics had seeped into the daily way you govern. Now, I accept it during areelection. I understand it. With no reelection ahead of you, why were you doing that?And I think that point illustrates, although a small one, the larger case we're making.The Administration would like the press and the public to believe that allthis corruption and cronyism consists of isolated instances . one-offs. But I ask you.Michael Brown, Scooter Libby, Bernard Kerik, Halliburton, Philip Cooney, DavidSafavian, Lurita Doan, Matteo Fontana, Sue Ellen Wooldridge, Steven Griles, AlbertoGonzales, FMEA, the Iraq intelligence, Iraq reconstruction, the U.S. Attorneys . noneof these are an accident. They are not isolated incidences. It's a pattern of politicalappointees who put partisan interests ahead of the country and were told to do so.The good news is that this pattern of putting party first and countrysecond has been brought into the light of day and can no longer be explained away as aproduct of errors or lapses in judgment or bad public relations. The implausibleexcuses, in my view, are piling up. The explanations are becoming harder and harder tobelieve and the truth more difficult to obscure. Americans now know that we arewitnessing much more than just incompetent individuals at work. In my view, we arewatching corruption in action. This corruption might have continued unchecked exceptfor the last election, which brought a Democratic majority to Congress with the ability toconduct oversight hearings and real serious accountability in those hearings. Thisadministration and a complicit Congress thought the American people didn't care aboutthe rampant corruption infecting their national government.Many in Washington dismissed the Democratic effort to make theissue of public corruption an issue in the last election. But voters across the countryrendered a different verdict than the official Washington line. And now we Democratsare accountable for fixing those problems. I'm proud that the Democratic-led Houseand Senate passed the most sweeping ethics reforms since the Watergate era. But itwas only a first step. We have more work to do.First, we must pass comprehensive lobbying reform legislation. TheSenate has taken action, and the House will take action, and the intention of theleadership before the Memorial Day break to pass sweeping lobbying reformlegislation and then go to conference.Next, we must extent the lobbying and ethics reform to for thelegislative branch to the executive branch. Congressman Waxman and CongressmanDavis, Republican from Virginia, have introduced bipartisan to do exactly that.And, finally, we must continue to have aggressive oversight hearings andefforts in Congress to hold the government and government agencies accountable, bothlegislative and executive branches.While we pursue these ideas and others to get politics and policy backinto balance, ultimately we need leaders who see public service as a calling and not aprofit center for either themselves or their political allies. A Congress that takes itsoversight responsibilities seriously is our best antidote to the unprecedentedpoliticization of government. Furthermore, the media must also continue to shine abright light on government and keep our leaders honest and accountable. That vigorousoversight ought to extend to the next Administration, whether it be Democratic orRepublican, and to the Congress.The saddest legacy of the Bush Administration's six-year trial, inview, of corruption is that it contributes to the public's already cynical view ofgovernment. This makes it even more difficult for those of us who believe that thepurpose of government is to secure a better future for our country and all of itspeople. Repairing this sorry legacy is one of the first challenges our next President will face.Thank you. I'd be happy to take your questions.