Purchased a FORA.tv video on another website? Login here with the temporary account credentials included in your receipt.
Sign up today to receive our weekly newsletter and special announcements.
Good morning. It's my pleasure to introduce Congressman Rahm Emanuel of Illinois this morning Congressman Emanuel is the Chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, as you know. He also sits on the House's most prestigious committee . Ways and Means. Before being elected to Congress, Congressman Emanuel was the key advisor to President Clinton and played a big part in many of the Clinton Administration's most important initiatives and accomplishments, including welfare reform, the ratification of the North American Free Trade Agreement, the 1993 budget agreement, the 1994 Crime Bill, and efforts to expand health insurance for uninsured children. Representative Emanuel chaired the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in the months leading up to last fall's election. As many of you know, the political parties in this country have been playing a much more proactive and centralized role in slating candidates for office than they did perhaps a generation or so ago. The smart selection of candidates . thanks I think to Congressman Emanuel's sound centrist instincts . went a long way to securing the 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 America We 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 the different 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 then have some questions by Tom Mann, my colleague . and brace yourselves that some of 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 moments like that you wish your mother and father were here because you know your mother would 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 reputation for its studies of government and public policy, with the goal of giving us a better understanding of the things that are working and those that are not. That's why I think this 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 a dirty word. And some of you who know me, like Tom, know I know something about dirty words. Politics is a vital and essential element of our political system, the vehicle by 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 good looks or charm and not because I was a top policy expert. No, I got to the White House the same way he did, through politics. And I'm not one who believes you can ever 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 without math. Yet, I've always recognized that there's a basic balance, that we should never allow the basic functions and solemn responsibilities of government to be subjugated to or take a backseat to politics or party interest. President Bush came to the White House with an entirely different understanding. Not since the days of Watergate when our judicial system and intelligence community were deployed by the White House in the service of partisan politics have we seen such, in my view, abuses; and in many ways, what we have seen from this Administration is far more extensive than that scandal. Partisan politics has infiltrated every level of our federal government . from scientific reports on global warming to emergency management services to the prosecutorial power of the federal government itself. Even the war in Iraq . from our entry to the reconstruction . has been thoroughly politicized and manipulated. Recently, even those who have become somewhat inured to the intense partisanship of this Administration were shocked by the political manipulation of our U.S. attorneys, and we have just begun to feel the impact of this scandal. Just as Hurricane Katrina exposed the issue of incompetence, the U.S. attorney scandal has placed a spotlight on the Administration's pattern of always placing the Republican Party's interests before the national or public interest. I believe that 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 the scandals in this Administration. Americans have learned just how the Bush Administration works and are discovering that under President Bush no function of the 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 or isolated cases. There is a common denominator. Instead of promoting solutions to our nation's broad challenges, the Bush Administration has used all the levers of power to promote their party and its narrow interests. During the 2000 presidential campaign, Karl Rove often drew an analogy between that election and the election of 1896 in which advisor Mark Hanna joined the forces with many of the plutocrats of the Gilded age and ushered in a 35 year era of Republican dominance, dominance that did not end until the election of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Without a trace of reserve, George Bush and Karl Rove set out to recreate an earlier era of one-party rule, and they pursued their goal by inverting, in my view, the very purpose of government. Under this Administration, the federal government has become a stepchild of the Republican Party, and in promoting its partisan interests, absolutely nothing is out of bounds . from our national security to our justice system and everything in between. Principals and supporters of the Bush Administration have taken to attributing its myriad failures to mere incompetence. That is an ironic defense for an Administration that once touted President Bush as the first MBA president and then boasted about a cabinet filled with CEOs and MBAs. In his appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee last week, the Attorney General denied politics was involved in his firing of the eight U.S. Attorneys. Instead, he suggested that the dismissals were just poorly handled or a public relations failure. The Attorney General could offer no coherent explanation for the mess, because to do so would unveil the guiding principle at the core of this White House, insinuating partisan politics into every aspect of government and bringing politics into what had used to be a political-free zone . the Justice Department. Even today, after three months of interviews, investigations, hearings, and public discussion, we still do not know who drafted the list of the U.S. Attorneys to be fired. We've been left with only three logical explanations for the dismissals. 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, You believe 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 stop and stem the bleeding of those public corruption cases. And until we hold hearings, we will never find out whether they were randomly selected . as one plausible explanation; second, that they were incompetent U.S. Attorneys who were originally selected; or, third, as I think, if you look today at the Wall Street Journal story and other examples, that in fact something else was going on here because of the cases that these individuals were bringing, and we will never have that answer until the hearings are fully incomplete (sic). In my view, they had a plan, which they told us about. They carried it out. And now America is paying the price for that plan. This is exactly what they said they were going to do, and the only difference is there had been no accountability for another branch of government to bring heat to this. From the very beginning, the Bush Administration has seeded the government with highly partisan appointees . people more interested in serving their party than the broader pubic interest. Almost every senior Bush appointee to the EPA and Interior Department has come out of the very industries they regulate and which generously funded the Republican Party. As Jim Hightower has noted, the Administration eliminated the middleman. The corporations don't have to lobby the government, because they are the government. This cronyism transcends the regulatory agencies. The Bush Administration even laced FEMA with political operatives rather than people with experience handling emergencies. There were early signs, not heeded, that this administration would be driven by partisan politics, not public policy. In Ron Suskind's book, "The Price of Loyalty," former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill complained that he couldn't interest anyone in policy discussions at the White House, because it was populated with political operatives rather than policy experts. Even the President's highly touted faith-based initiative turned out to be a purely political play. The two top leaders of the new office both quit in frustration. John DiIulio, Jr., left after being forced to work in a White House that he likened to . and this is his quote . "the reign of the Mayberry Machiavellis." Former Deputy Director David . and I may be mispronouncing his name so I apologize . Kuo later alleged that then-White House political affairs director Ken Mehlman knowingly participated in a scheme to use that government office to mobilize religious voters in 20 targeted congressional races of which the Republicans won 19. This is inside. I've got to tell you, Tammany Hall had nothing on this Administration. The Bush Administration has redefined the famous challenge of President Kennedy's inaugural address. Instead of "Ask not what your country can do for you," it's become "Ask what your government can do for our party." It's true that Franklin Roosevelt started an era of Democratic domination of politics in Washington that lasted well into the '60s. Roosevelt forged a lasting political coalition by conquering the economic blight of the Great Depression and uniting our nation and its mission in World War II and to take on Hitler and the totalitarianism of his administration . not administration but his brain. The Democratic Party reaped the political dividends of successfully confronting those dual national challenges. That was a different model of governing. There was a political benefit for having done government well. In contrast, the Bush Administration has ignored the great challenges of our day, and for six years, in my view, the Legislative Branch was complicit in this scheme. 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 find evidence to justify the President's rationale for war, the Administration browbeat the CIA to tailor its intelligence. Vice President Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, the Secretary of Defense, even set up their own intelligence arm to provide the desired evidence. When form Ambassador Joseph Wilson cast doubt on the Administration's contention that Saddam was trying to uranium in Niger for a nuclear weapon, the Vice President's chief of staff, "Scooter" Libby, embarked on a smear campaign by leaking the identity of Wilson's wife, an undercover CIA officer. Once the Iraq war was launched, we all knew how important the reconstruction would be to securing the peace. Politics extended to the reconstruction. The person chosen to oversee Iraq's health care system was the community health director for the former Republican governor of Michigan. The individual he replaced was a physician with a master's degree in public health and post-graduate degrees from Harvard, Yale, Dartmouth, and University of California . Berkeley, and taught at Johns Hopkins School of Public Health where he specialized in disaster response. A 24-year-old with a background in commercial real estate was hired by the Authority to reopen and manage the Iraqi stock exchange. The daughter of a prominent neoconservative was tapped to manage Iraq's $13 billion annual budget. Nothing was free from political influence. Politically connected individuals weren't the only beneficiaries of the Administration's Iraq operations. Before the invasion of Iraq, Halliburton's subsidiary was granted a $7 billion classified contract to restore the country's oil fields. Halliburton then went on to overcharge the government and its taxpayers by a hundred million dollars. The Administration's coziness with corporations extends to the treatment of our injured veterans. Last year, a company called IAP Worldwide Services won a $120 million contract to privatize management at Walter Reed. IAP is owned by a firm chaired by former Bush Treasury Secretary John Snow and has political ties to Congressman Jerry Lewis, the former Republican chairman of the Appropriations Committee. Everyone knows about the Vice President's secret energy task force meetings with top executives from the energy industry, but science and sound policy have also taken a backseat to political considerations when it comes to the government's findings on global warming. The New York Times reported that when Phil Cooney served as the chief of staff for the White House Council on Environmental Quality, he removed or adjusted or edited descriptions of scientific research to downplay the links between emission and global warming. Before joining the Bush Administration, Cooney worked for the American Petroleum Institute. After resigning his government post, he went to work for Exxon-Mobil. Bush Administration officials even vacation with energy lobbyists. The Justice Department's former top environmental prosecutor, Sue Ellen Wooldridge, recently bought a beach house with an energy lobbyist and Steven Griles, a former Bush Administration 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 off limits. The Washington Post recently reported that Matteo Fontana, a senior official in the Department of Education's financial aid office, owned about $100,000 worth of stock in a student loan company that has been subpoenaed by New York officials. Last weekend, we learned that an investigation into President Bush's Reading First program and allegations that officials improperly profited when implementing the program and the case this week was just referred to the Justice Department. The Bush Administration memorably demonstrated its willingness to enrich those who carry out its political agenda. Seeking to build support for the Leave No Child Behind program, the Administration paid Armstrong Williams $24,000 in taxpayers' money to promote the legislation on his TV show. And I also . I agree . I think one of the more egregious misuses of public funds took place around the Administration's budget-busting Medicare prescription drug bill. The nonpartisan GAO concluded that the Department of Health and Human Services illegally spent federal money to produce videos made to look like news reports and distribute them to TV stations across America. After the bill was passed, it was revealed that the Administration purposely withheld information from Congress on the true cost of the prescription drug bill. Richard S. Foster, Medicare's chief actuary for two Administrations, said that Bush Administration officials had threatened to fire him if he disclosed that the drug plan would cost hundreds of billions more than President . his staff was telling Congress. In short, Richard Foster would be fired if he did his job. Perhaps the most thoroughly politicized bureau of the federal government is the GSA . General Services Administration . a large agency charged with procuring supplies and managing federal properties. Former Chief of Staff David Safavian was convicted of covering up his efforts to assist Jack Abramoff in acquiring two properties controlled by the GSA. Safavian was convicted of concealing facts about 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 government contractor, who has donated tens of thousands of dollars to the Republican Party. On January 26th of this year, Doan took part in a meeting at the GSA that included 40 regional administrators by videoconference. At this meeting, political director J. Scott Jennings gave a PowerPoint presentation on the 2006 elections. The Washington Post reported that one slide named 20 Democrats in Congress the Republicans will try to defeat in 2008. Another slide listed Republican Congressmen the party wants to protect. According to the Post, Ms. Doan asked the assembled government employees how they could "help our candidates" in the next election. Of course, it's illegal for political activity of this kind to occur in a federal office. At a House hearing last month, Ms. Doan claimed she couldn't recall the slide presentation or making the remarks that were attributed to her by various Republican appointees who were in attendance. Now, the Office of Special Counsel is investigating this matter. The most vivid example of this Administration's corruption, and the one that revealed its true cost to the American people, was the fumbling of the Katrina disaster. Under President Clinton, FEMA was run by James Lee Witt, a political appointee and a man with years of experience in disaster management. But the Bush Administration chose to staff the sensitive agency with unqualified political appointees. The President first appointed his 2000 campaign manager, Joe Allbaugh, to run FEMA. Joe hired his long-time friend, Michael Brown, as the Agency's general counsel. Michael Brown had no emergency management experience, having served as an attorney for the International Arabian Horse Association. Joe Allbaugh left in early 2003, and the President named Michael Brown to replace him. When the Gulf Coast was hit by the worst natural disaster in U.S. history, FEMA, one of the best agencies in the federal government in the year 2000, and only four years after 911, was woefully unprepared to provide the needed assistance. Now, millions of Americans are continuing to suffer terrible consequences, and FEMA has left behind a striking legacy of mismanagement. Even FEMA's attempt to take modest action failed. After purchasing thousands of trailers for t hose displaced by the hurricane, those very trailers continue to sit empty in 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 very good, 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 nation emerge from the Great Depression. Political appointees are not inherently corrupt or wrong. The difference is that these appointees that I just mentioned were well qualified for their positions, and they put the welfare of the nation ahead of purely partisan interest, and judged by those criteria few of the President's appointees would pass that test. We've all focused on the recent firings of the eight U.S. Attorneys. They did not come out of the blue. There were a number of examples of political consideration overriding the work of Justice Department lawyers that should have woken us all up earlier. The removal of the U.S. Attorneys for political reasons, in my view, is not a new occurrence. In 2002, a grand jury in Guam opened an investigation into 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 demoted after more than a decade in office. A report by the Interior Department's Inspector General later concluded that Abramoff had actively lobbied for his dismissal and had a pipeline into the White House to accomplish that goal. And he wasn't shy about reaching out to the White House for help. While the White House initially told us that Jack Abramoff only occasionally or infrequently reached out to the White House, we later learned he contacted the White House 485 times. You can see the beginnings of a scandal: A U.S. Attorney was removed who wasn't . and I quote . "a loyal Bushie." Sharon Eubanks, a 22-year veteran career Justice Department lawyer who led the Justice Department team that prosecuted the landmark lawsuit against tobacco companies, told the Washington Post that three political appointees in the Attorney General's office undermined the government's case in the final weeks of the 2005 trial, which cost the federal government billions of dollars. Now we've learned that political considerations were behind the dismissal of the eight U.S. Attorneys across the country, including some members who were actively investigating Republican members of Congress. Recently released e-mails between the staff at the Justice Department and the staff at the White House show that loyalty to President Bush and pressure from political figures led to the firings. In the course of the ongoing congressional investigations, we have also learned that the White House staffers, including Karl Rove, have used e-mail addresses issued by the Republican National Committee. And I have a simple question as a person who worked in the White House: Why? Why did government officials need a political tool to conduct business and daily governing each day? Of course, party computers 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 ahead of him? Those e-mail accounts were only necessary because politics was so deeply engrained in the administration's normal course of business. You only need a computer system paid for by the Republican National Committee for day-to-day operations if in fact politics had seeped into the daily way you govern. Now, I accept it during a reelection. 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 all this corruption and cronyism consists of isolated instances . one-offs. But I ask you. Michael Brown, Scooter Libby, Bernard Kerik, Halliburton, Philip Cooney, David Safavian, Lurita Doan, Matteo Fontana, Sue Ellen Wooldridge, Steven Griles, Alberto Gonzales, FMEA, the Iraq intelligence, Iraq reconstruction, the U.S. Attorneys . none of these are an accident. They are not isolated incidences. It's a pattern of political appointees 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 country second has been brought into the light of day and can no longer be explained away as a product of errors or lapses in judgment or bad public relations. The implausible excuses, in my view, are piling up. The explanations are becoming harder and harder to believe and the truth more difficult to obscure. Americans now know that we are witnessing much more than just incompetent individuals at work. In my view, we are watching corruption in action. This corruption might have continued unchecked except for the last election, which brought a Democratic majority to Congress with the ability to conduct oversight hearings and real serious accountability in those hearings. This administration and a complicit Congress thought the American people didn't care about the rampant corruption infecting their national government. Many in Washington dismissed the Democratic effort to make the issue of public corruption an issue in the last election. But voters across the country rendered a different verdict than the official Washington line. And now we Democrats are accountable for fixing those problems. I'm proud that the Democratic-led House and Senate passed the most sweeping ethics reforms since the Watergate era. But it was only a first step. We have more work to do. First, we must pass comprehensive lobbying reform legislation. The Senate has taken action, and the House will take action, and the intention of the leadership before the Memorial Day break to pass sweeping lobbying reform legislation and then go to conference. Next, we must extent the lobbying and ethics reform to for the legislative branch to the executive branch. Congressman Waxman and Congressman Davis, Republican from Virginia, have introduced bipartisan to do exactly that. And, finally, we must continue to have aggressive oversight hearings and efforts in Congress to hold the government and government agencies accountable, both legislative and executive branches. While we pursue these ideas and others to get politics and policy back into balance, ultimately we need leaders who see public service as a calling and not a profit center for either themselves or their political allies. A Congress that takes its oversight responsibilities seriously is our best antidote to the unprecedented politicization of government. Furthermore, the media must also continue to shine a bright light on government and keep our leaders honest and accountable. That vigorous oversight ought to extend to the next Administration, whether it be Democratic or Republican, and to the Congress. The saddest legacy of the Bush Administration's six-year trial, in view, of corruption is that it contributes to the public's already cynical view of government. This makes it even more difficult for those of us who believe that the purpose of government is to secure a better future for our country and all of its people. 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.