An unexpected sighting of the Franken-Coleman contest

Rahm Emanuel
REUTERS/Jeff Haynes
Rahm Emanuel

The current New Yorker includes a colorful profile of Rahm Emanuel, which portrays the new White House chief of staff (as all profiles do) as smart, fierce in political battle, foul-mouthed and impish. In the middle of the piece, I was surprised to find a reference to every Minnesotan’s favorite Senate recount.

The New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza asked Emanuel about criticism of the big stimulus bill from Nobel Economics Laureate and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman. Krugman argued that the tradeoffs that were necessary to get the support of three Republican senators had undermined the bill’s impact, trading away too much spending for too many tax cuts, which Krugman believes have little stimulative effect. Emanuel replied:

“No disrespect to Paul Krugman,” Emanuel went on, “but has he figured out how to seat the Minnesota senator?” Emanuel said Krugman, whom Emanuel said was probably right about the economics of matter, but that instead of sermonizing on economics Krugman should “write a f***ing column on how to seat the son of a bitch. I would be fascinated with that column. O.K.?”

If you’re wondering what the missing letters were, the full New Yorker piece didn’t shrink from printing them, but I still have children in the home. And if you’re wondering what the connection is, Emanuel was arguing that if Franken had been in the Senate, and if Ted Kennedy had been in better health, Emanuel would have needed just one Republican vote to pass the bill (with a filibuster-proof 60 votes) and could have driven a harder bargain. But, absent Franken and unsure of Kennedy’s availability, he felt he needed three Republican votes and needed to move further down the path of GOP demands.

There has been considerable discussion of how much the empty Minnesota seat has cost the Obama agenda in its first weeks. I guess this gives us Emanuel’s salty view of the matter.

At the end of the piece, by the way, Emanuel essentially confessed, in a sly gangsterish way, that he needed to hand out one last carrot (or maybe brandish one last stick) to get the deal. As Lizza tells the sausage-making story:

Emanuel laughed as he recounted the final sticking point in the negotiations. It was not, as many people have thought, an argument between the five centrist senators—Ben Nelson, Joe Lieberman, [Susan] Collins, [Olympia] Snowe, and [Arlen] Specter—and the House but a debate among the centrists themselves. The dispute was over a formula for how Medicaid funds in the bill would be allocated to the states. In the House version of the legislation, fifty per cent of the funds would go to all states and fifty per cent would go to states with high unemployment. In the Senate, where rural interests are more dominant, the formula was 80-20. A deal had been reached between the two chambers to split the difference and make the formula 65-35. “Everybody signed except for Ben Nelson,” Emanuel said. “He wants 72-28, or seventy-two and a half, and he says, ‘I’m not signing this deal.’ Specter says, ‘Well, I am not agreeing with you.’ ” Without Nelson, Collins wasn’t likely to vote for the deal, either.

“Collins and Snowe are kind of like, at this point, looking at their shoes,” Emanuel went on, “because Specter says, ‘Well, why make it seventy-two? What do you mean? We all have it at sixty-five, in the middle.’ ” Emanuel politely declared that the formula would stay at 65-35. He then asked Nelson to step out of the room with him. After a brief conversation in the hallway, they returned, and Nelson agreed to the stimulus package.

Emanuel stood up and removed his tie as he finished the story, making it clear that he was ready to leave for the airport. He seemed more cheerful, knowing that he was that much closer to seeing his family. I asked him what he promised Nelson to persuade him to drop his objections. Emanuel just smiled. “Everything is going to be O.K.,” he said, in a mock-soothing voice. “America is going to be a great place.”

Wink, wink.

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Comments (1)

  1. Submitted by Burton'Jon Blackwell on 03/02/2009 - 09:14 am.

    Coleman obviously needs a shrink and pyschiatric therapy for his acute case of denile.

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