As the Obama administration battles a host of issues, with the sluggish economy, ongoing involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan and now an environmental catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico, some wonder if Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel – the recognized “bad cop” of their political coupling — is becoming an albatross around the President’ s increasingly strained neck.
Last Wednesday, California GOP Rep. Darrell Issa called for a criminal investigation into the Obama chief of staff’s role in offering a non-paid advisory board post to Pennsylvania Rep. Joe Sestak in exchange for dropping out of the Pennsylvania Democratic Senate primary race against longtime lawmaker Arlen Specter. Sestak, who declined such a role, went on to beat Specter, an 80-year-old incumbent supported by the White House.
Issa, ranking member of the House Committee on Government Oversight, wrote in a letter to the U.S. Office of Special Counsel that Mr. Emanuel “was leveraging the power and access of his official position to advance political interests of the Democratic party.” He called on the committee to investigate whether Emanuel have violated federal laws. The White House counsel has investigated and said there was no wrong-doing in the Sestak offer.
Emanuel, who acknowledged utilizing the influence of President Bill Clinton in pursuing such a deal, has long tentacles into the Washington Democratic establishment, serving as a White House adviser to Clinton and helping to raise funds for his 1992 presidential election.
The Sestak affair is among mounting charges of slippery dealings that have kept the Chicago political operative and former House member in the news of late.
In Chicago, where embattled former Gov. Rod Blagojevich is on trial, Mr. Emanuel has been subpoenaed to testify as a witness along with White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett. Mr. Blagojevich, arrested in 2008 and later impeached and kicked out of office in 2009, is facing federal criminal charges of trying to sell the Illinois U.S. Senate seat once held by the President.
Emanuel, a former ballet dancer who has earned a reputation as a powerful and ball-busting, Chicago-style political heavy – hence the moniker “Rahmbo” – is also under scrutiny for living for five years, while a member of the House of Representatives, in a rent-free apartment owned by another Democratic lawmaker Rosa DeLauro. Word now comes that Mrs. DeLauro’s husband acted as branding consultant to Gulf oil spill company BP, developing the petroleum company’s marketing campaign as “green” with a slogan that read “Beyond Petroleum.”
How deep the Obama Administration’s connection to BP may become known in the months ahead as the environmental catastrophe unfolds, likely hijacking the Gulf region’s economy further with coastal, wildlife and water damages yet unknown. The petroleum giant was a deep pocket for the Obama presidential election campaign in 2008.
Earlier this year, Emanuel, dubbed in one Huffington Post headline as “Obama’s Chief of Sabotage,” was caught in a war of words with ousted Rep. Eric Massa, who called Emanuel the “son of the devil’s spawn.” Masssa, who left Congress after an ethics probe where he was accused of sexually harassing male political aides, described an odd naked argument in the showers of the congressional gym with Mr. Emanuel.
In a radio interview, Massa called Emanuel “an individual who would sell his mother to get a vote.”
Emanuel, a family man with a reputation for insouciance who is rumored to want the job back home as Chicago mayor, appeared happily alongside Vice President Joe Biden for a summer kickoff party at the veep residence in Washington recently. He participated in a good-natured water-gun war of Super Soaker with Biden, according to media accounts, the playful photo op belying the brewing political controversies and looming uncertainty of the midterm congressional elections, which, after Tuesday’s GOP swamping could pave a hard road to the 2012 election.
If Emanuel sticks around for a second-term run, chances are he will be gearing up for yet another fight as Obama’s popularity wanes and new domestic and foreign issues stymie hope in a national turnaround. His critics describe a man who likes to be right and to win – his way and at all costs — with Huffington Post columnist Dan Froomkin describing Mr. Emanuel’s tactics as “soulless political gamesmanship.”
Wrote Mr. Froomkin in a March online post: “To Emanuel, victory is the only thing, and rather than recognize the errors of his ways and recalibrate, he is publicly declaring that the now wildly recognized enfeeblement of his boss’s presidency is not his failure but his vindication.”