Obama could use another deal maker by his side

October 1, 2010

The remainder of the Obama presidency may hinge on whether the White House can reach a grand agreement with Republicans on critical tax and budget issues. The departure of White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel to run for Chicago mayor makes that a bit harder. As befits a former investment banker, he understood how to close a deal. Negotiating skills are still in high demand at the White House.

On a West Wing organizational chart, the profane and pugilistic Emanuel was Obama’s tough-guy bouncer, controlling the flow of people and information into the Oval Office. He was — as a humorous name plate in his office read — the Under Secretary for Go [Expletive] Yourself. But Emanuel was much more. He was Obama’s economic consigliere, virtual shadow Treasury secretary, and de facto prime minister.

Indeed, it would be impossible to write an accurate financial history of the past two years without acknowledging the critical role Emanuel played. While still an Illinois congressman and House leader during the autumn of 2008, Emanuel helped push the $700 billion bank bailout bill through a reluctant Congress.

Once in the Obama White House, Emanuel massaged and manipulated the wonkery of the Obama economics team into a politically workable form. When some advisers pushed hard for a $1.2 trillion stimulus in early 2009, Emanuel downsized it, knowing that his old mates in Congress would balk such a lush package.

And it was “Rahmbo” to the rescue after the stock market tanked in response to Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner’s February 2009 speech on the banking crisis. Obama ordered Emanuel to whip the understaffed Treasury team into fighting trim. And that was just fine with the banks. They considered Emanuel — who made millions in a previous guise as a managing director at Wasserstein Perella — a fellow traveler.

So Wall Street is sad to see him go. Republicans should be, too — at least those who desire fiscal reform. Emanuel was a big believer that politics is the “art of the possible.” Obama will be under plenty of pressure from his unhappy liberal base to appoint a successor who will be the guardian of traditional liberal principles. But that’s a recipe for gridlock. America needs a closer, not an ideologue, whispering in the president’s ear.

No comments so far

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/