Bubba's Big Speech

Rahm Emanuel: What Bill Clinton Will Say in Convention Speech

As Clinton Day kicks off in Charlotte, Rahm Emanuel talks about the Big Dog’s big speech—and how little the partisan climate has changed. By Lloyd Grove

It’s Bill Clinton Day in Charlotte, N.C., and Clinton loyalist Rahm Emanuel kicked off the festival at Wednesday’s Politico Playbook Breakfast by predicting what the 42nd president will say during his much-touted speech at the Democratic National Convention.

“First of all,” said Chicago Mayor Emanuel, a rare politician who served as a top staffer in both the Clinton and Obama White House, “he’ll still be writing backstage. I don’t know how many times, even on the way down Pennsylvania Avenue [to the State of the Union address in the Capitol], he’d still be writing side-notes, sharpening rhetoric and the main arguments.”

Emanuel continued: “I know he wants to say, ‘Both President Obama and I faced fierce opposition.’ Remember, Bill Clinton passed his first budget in 1993 without a single Republican vote. ‘And against fierce opposition, we tried to do the same things—which is invest in the key areas of education, research and devolpment, health care, that pay huge dividends for the country—and also modernizing and reinventing government. And against that opposition, we made great benefits for the country as a whole and middle-class families in particular.’”

The 52-year-old Emanuel—who transitioned from political aide to investment banker (making $16.2 million in a couple of years) to congressman from Chicago to aide again as Obama’s first chief of staff—added that Clinton “will draw parallels between the similarities of their policies and the politics that they faced. Now everyone remembers, oh, this hazy period of time in the ’90s when we had bipartisanship. I was 6’2” and weighed 250 pounds then. I lost a lot of weight.”

(Actually, he was joking. Emanuel, a former ballet dancer, has always had the physique of a human razor blade, and he described a strict diet and manic daily workout routine that involves swimming, jogging, bike riding, and yoga. “Don’t do this,” he advised the audience.)

“I don’t remember the bipartisanship that everybody remembers,” says Emanuel, who is stepping down from his role as honorary co-chair of the Obama campaign so he can help reel in money for the pro-Obama superPAC. “I remember fierce opposition to President Clinton and his agenda. They wanted to shut the government down—not ‘wanted to,’ they did. There was fierce debate about the role that government could play. They now claim bipartisanship on welfare, but Clinton vetoed two of their bills before he agreed to their concessions. They voted against [the military operation in] Kosovo when the troops were in the air.”

And so on and so forth.

Under questioning from Politico editor in chief John Harris and Playbook impresario Mike Allen, the mayor also took the opportunity to bash Mitt Romney and heap praise on Obama’s decision to bail out the auto industry with tens of billions of taxpayer dollars—a move he claimed saved or created 1.2 million jobs, and steeply lowered unemployment in the battleground state of Ohio.

“There was nobody that thought this had a better than one in four chance of success,” Emanuel said. “The president said, ‘All in.’… Mitt Romney [said] let it go bankrupt.”

On a less substantive subject, Emanuel said the testimony of candidates’ spouses—Ann Romney’s convention speech in Tampa and Michelle Obama’s in Charlotte—is an important factor in how people decide who to vote for.

“Part of this is character,” he said. “We’re all products of our experience. It shapes our judgments and who we are. [The spouse] has the best insight into that person. People want to know that. It is the president of the United States.”

When Harris mentioned Ann Romney’s anecdote about how, in the early days of their marriage, she and Mitt lived on pasta and tuna sandwiches, Emanuel chimed in: “Bluefin tuna.” With a grin he added, “That was not nice.”

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Not that he was trying to be nice.