In choosing Illinois Congressman Rahm Emanuel as White House
chief of staff, President-elect Barack Obama opted for a tough-talking
political power player with a reputation for getting things done.
Emanuel, 48, was a senior adviser to President Bill Clinton and
has enjoyed a quick rise through the power ranks in the House
since taking office in 2003.
accepted the chief of staff role on Nov. 7, but only after he
carefully deliberated the offer, he told reporters.
"This is not a professional choice. This is a personal choice
about what my wife and I want to do for our family, as much as
what to do with my career." he told WLS-TV Chicago.
Emanuel grew up in the Chicago suburb of Wilmette, the son of
an Israeli doctor who moved to the United States. He graduated
from Sarah Lawrence College in 1981 and received a master's degree
from Northwestern University in 1985.
Emanuel began his career with the consumer rights organization
Illinois Public Action. He worked on Paul Simon's campaign to
represent Illinois in the U.S. Senate in 1984 and in 1989 served
as a senior adviser and chief fundraiser for Chicago Mayor Richard
After a departure during the 1991 Gulf War to volunteer as a
civilian at an Israeli military supply base, Emanuel joined the
presidential campaign of then-Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton, becoming
the campaign's finance director. Emanuel went on to work as an
adviser in the Clinton White House, serving first as political
director and later as a senior policy adviser.
Among the moves credited to Emanuel during the Clinton years,
he is said to have helped choreograph the famous handshake of
Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat on the White House lawn in1993.
After leaving the White House in 1999, Emanuel engaged in successful
stint in investment banking. He re-entered politics and won a
seat in Congress in 2002, representing Illinois' Fifth District.
"Moving quickly up the ranks in the House, Emanuel cut an
unusually high-profile figure," the Almanac of American politics
recounts in a profile. "Even before winning election in 2002,
he strategized for the national party, met with the national media
and sought a prime committee assignment."
Emanuel was appointed by then-House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi,
now speaker of the House, to serve as chair of the Democratic
Congressional Campaign Committee at the beginning of his second
Under his leadership in 2006, Democrats gained 30 seats in the
House, ushering in a Democratic majority that the party built
on in the 2008 election.
In January 2007, Emanuel was tapped to serve as Democratic caucus
chair, making him the fourth-highest ranking member of the House,
after Speaker Pelosi, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., and
Majority Whip James Clyburn, D-S.C.
Emanuel also served on the influential House Ways and Means Committee,
which oversees taxes, trade, Social Security and Medicare issues.
By joining the White House staff, Emanuel will give up his House
seat along with his position in the House Democratic leadership
-- as well as put aside his reported goal to become House speaker,
according to the Associated Press.
"He is a no-nonsense, fast-talking politician, and we've
had a few of those in Chicago," Obama said of Emanuel in
a 2006 interview with The Washington Post, according to CBS News.
"He's a little bit larger than life. We like them with a
little bit of personality."
A number of rival politicians were quick to criticize Emanuel's
abrasive style after word of the appointment emerged in news reports.
Republican National Committee spokesman Alex Conant issued a
statement calling Emanuel "a partisan insider" and referring
to him by his nickname of "Rahmbo," according to Politico.
House GOP leader John Boehner of Ohio called Emanuel "an
ironic choice for a president-elect who has promised to change
Washington, make politics more civil, and govern from the center."
Still, some see Emanuel's no-holds-barred approach as something
the even-tempered Obama may need to get his administration off
"I think it's a good selection," New York Times columnist
David Brooks said on the NewsHour. "It's a controversial
selection, because many people see him as a very partisan figure
and a tough partisan figure, and he has been. He has elected a
lot of Democrats."
"He has been partisan, but in that he's shown a great grasp
of reality," Brooks said. "The members of the House
who he recruited to run, especially in southern and swing districts,
are conservatives. And he understands where the country is."
High profile careers run in the Emanuel family. Rahm Emanuel's
brother, Ari, is a top figure in the movie business and is the
inspiration for the character Ari Gold, a tough-talking Hollywood
super agent on the HBO series "Entourage." Another brother,
Ezekiel Emanuel, is a noted Harvard oncologist.