- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 26, 2003

Few first-year members of Congress have entered the House of Representatives with the clout and experience possessed by Rep. Rahm Emanuel. The Illinois Democrat, a survivor of the scandal-plagued Clinton administration's inner circle, is no ordinary freshman.
He's a behind-the-scenes heavyweight political consultant who is starting a new career as a holder of public office something he never thought he'd do before he was recruited away from a lucrative post-political career as an investment banker to run for the seat vacated by Rod R. Blagojevich, the newly elected governor of Illinois.
"I was quite comfortable with the positions I had," said Mr. Emanuel, 43, who represents a district in Northwest Chicago. "My lovely bride reminds me that I said I'd never run for public office. If not for our present governor leaving the congressional seat, I'd have never thought about it."
Now he will have to think about where he fits into the House Democratic hierarchy. He was elected the whip of his freshman class, and political observers foresee a bright future for this old political hand whose seat is as secure as it gets. Democrats have held the 5th District of Illinois for all but two of the past 80 years.
Mr. Emanuel was the finance director for the congressional campaign of David L. Robinson of Chicago in the late 1970s when he was barely old enough to buy beer. He also worked on Paul Simon's 1984 U.S. Senate race, served as the senior adviser and fund-raiser for Richard M. Daley's victorious Chicago mayoral campaign in 1989 and was the national campaign director for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in 1988.
Then there was his service as a senior political adviser to President Bill Clinton from 1993 to 1998.
"People talk about that seasoning," Mr. Emanuel said. "There's no doubt that's valuable, as was the time away from Washington in Chicago with my family."
But he will be in the minority party in the House, which will make it difficult to advance his priorities. Mr. Emanuel said he'd like to work for universal health care coverage and expansion of government college loan programs two ideas touted in high-profile Democratic speeches last week by Sen. John B. Breaux of Louisiana and Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts.
"I'm under no illusions as to what it means to be a freshman in the minority party," Mr. Emanuel said. "You don't get lower on the food chain than that. Republicans write the rules, but I'm looking forward to a healthy discussion. As a freshman, I will help my party think about those things."
One thing few will forget to think about is Mr. Emanuel's role as a chief defender of Mr. Clinton during the Monica Lewinsky scandal. Mr. Emanuel was one of the most loyal and ardent defenders of his boss, though his public pronouncements generally lacked the fire and vitriol of such men as James Carville and Paul Begala.
Republicans said it will be interesting to listen to Mr. Emanuel's rhetoric in the coming years, especially if he moves quickly up the Democratic leadership ladder.
"We're definitely curious," an unidentified House Republican aide said. "His history is of a loyal party soldier who can handle the heat, no matter how hot it gets."
On Feb. 6, 1998, Mr. Emanuel told a PBS audience on the "Lehrer NewsHour" that the investigation of accusations that Mr. Clinton lied under oath and suborned perjury came down to just a couple of key questions:
"Did [Mr. Clinton] have a relationship a sexual relationship with Monica Lewinsky? The answer to that is, no," he said. "Did he ask anybody to do anything but tell the truth? And the answer is that he's always told people to tell the truth. That's what's fundamental."
The investigation by independent counsel Kenneth Starr, however, concluded otherwise. The House of Representatives impeached Mr. Clinton for giving false statements under oath about his relationship with Miss Lewinsky and asking others to do the same. The Senate voted not to convict the president.
Mr. Emanuel said he's proud of his service to Mr. Clinton and has no regrets.
"[That experience] doesn't get me a star; it gets me a demerit," Mr. Emanuel joked.
"Some people remember the Clinton years fondly; some people don't," Mr. Emanuel said. "Some will respect me for my loyalty and what I did for the president. Others will judge me as a person."
Mr. Emanuel said all of his colleagues "to date have looked forward and not in the rear-view mirror." And they include Republicans.
"They could not be nicer," he said. "I could not be more appreciative of their friendship and how nice they've been to my family."


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