Illinois Rep. Rahm Emanuel, architect of the Democrats’ congressional gains in the past two elections, has accepted President-elect Barack Obama’s offer of White House chief of staff.
In an interview Wednesday, Emanuel suggested he was still considering the decision with his family and political aspirations in mind.
“I have a lot to weigh: the basis of public service , which I’ve given my life to, a career choice. And most importantly, what I want to do as a parent,” Mr. Emanuel told Chicago’s WLS-TV.
“And I know something about the White House. That, I assume, is one of the reasons that President-elect Obama would like me to serve. But I also know something about what it means to a family,” he added, referring to the grueling pace that White House staffers must endure.
“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,” Mr. Emanuel said.
A Democratic aide has confirmed Emanuel informed Speaker Nancy Pelosi of his decision and will vacate his seat in the House of Representatives.
The pick belied Obama’s promise to bring a “new kind of politics” to Washington because of Emanuel’s reputation as a fierce partisan with strong ties to the Clinton White House, where he worked as an aide and ran damage control for the Monica Lewinsky affair and campaign-finance scandals.
More recently, Emanuel served as chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which this year outspent Republicans by pouring tens of millions of dollars into House races and helped Democrats pick up more than a dozen seats Tuesday. Like Obama, Emanuel is known for raking in huge amounts of campaign cash.
This is the first of President-elect Obama’s decisions as he begins the transition process.
The day after his historic election as the country’s first black president, Obama awoke to a world in which Russian President Dmitry Medvedev threatened to deploy short-range missiles aimed at Eastern Europe and the Dow Jones Industrial Average plummeted 486 points.
The turmoil in international relations and in the stock market underscored the grave challenges ahead for Mr. Obama, who will enter the Oval Office already embroiled in two wars and a global economic meltdown.
Mr. Obama’s inauguration theme, “A New Birth of Freedom,” will commemorate the 200th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s birth, said Senator Dianne Feinstein, the California Democrat who serves as chairman of the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies. The words come from the Gettysburg address, and they express Lincoln’s hope that the sacrifice of those who died to preserve the nation shall lead to “a new birth of freedom” for the United States, Ms. Feinstein explained Thursday.
“At a time when our country faces major challenges at home and abroad, it is appropriate to revisit the words of President Lincoln, who strived to bring the nation together by appealing to ‘the better angels of our nature’,” Ms. Feinstein said. “It is especially fitting to celebrate the words of Lincoln as we prepare to inaugurate the first African-American president of the United States.”
Mr. Obama kept a low profile in Chicago with no public appearances beyond a visit to the gym. In Washington, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, vowed to use her party’s increased majorities to pass bills next year to fund embryonic-stem-cell research and more government health insurance for poor children.
She also hinted at an immediate lame-duck session to pass an economic stimulus package of up to $100 billion likely to include Democrats’ proposals for New Deal-style public works projects to employ laborers building highways and bridges, extend unemployment benefits, increase Medicaid payments and expand food-stamp eligibility.
“In the spirit of working in a bipartisan way, we will soon find out if people want to be part of the solution, if they want to weigh in on shaping the legislation so that we can get the job done for the American people,” she said.
The prospects of unbridled one-party rule dimmed, however, as incumbent Republican Sen. Norm Coleman of Minnesota claimed victory over Democratic challenger Al Franken.
With 100 percent of precincts reporting, Mr. Coleman led by 475 votes, which triggers an automatic recount under state law. Mr. Franken refused to concede, but if Mr. Coleman’s lead holds, it will dash Democrats’ hopes for a filibuster-proof majority to ram through legislation.
Democrats picked up at least six Senate seats to increase their majority to 57, with Alaska still too close to call.
The Democrats claimed another Senate seat Thursday, after Democratic challenger Jeff Merkley defeated incumbent Republican Gordon Smith in Oregon’s Senate contest.
The pick-up of the Oregon Senate seat gives the Democrats a total of 55 senators. In addition, two independents from Vermont and Connecticut have caucused with the Democrats in the past. Three Senate contests involving Republican incumbents in Alaska, Minnesota and Georgia have yet to be decided.
Even if Democrats won all three states, a 59-seat majority would fall short of the 60 needed to allow the party to push through measures without the threat of a Republican filibuster. A third Senate seat — Georgia — also was in doubt Wednesday as Republican incumbent Saxby Chambliss led but may not have received the required 50 percent, which would trigger a Dec. 2 runoff.
Meanwhile, defeated Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain returned to a quieter life after months crisscrossing the country by bus and plane. He drove with his wife, Cindy, to a Starbucks for coffee near their Phoenix condominium and planned a few days of vacation at their home near Sedona, Ariz.
Mr. Obama held a conference call with staff from across the country Wednesday morning, thanking them for their hard work in the past few months. He also planned to stop by the campaign headquarters in Chicago in the next few days to thank staff in person, a campaign spokesman said.
The campaign announced that John Podesta, who was President Clinton’s chief of staff, longtime Obama friend Valerie Jarrett and aide Pete Rouse will oversee Mr. Obama’s transition team, which is being set up through a newly created nonprofit entity called the Obama-Biden Transition Project.
The chief executive of a Chicago real estate management company, Ms. Jarrett could be in the running to head the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Affairs. Lawrence H. Summers, former Treasury secretary under Mr. Clinton, is among the names reportedly considered to lead the Treasury.
The campaign also announced Wednesday afternoon that a 12-member board, including former Clinton Commerce Secretary William M. Daley and Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano, will advise the transition team. Other advisers on the panel include Carol Browner, who headed the Environmental Protection Agency in the Clinton White House.
In the House, Democrats increased their 36-seat majority by 19 seats for a 254-173 advantage, although the pickup fell short of the 25- to 30-seat gain predicted by political analysts.
At her Capitol Hill press conference Wednesday, Mrs. Pelosi struck a conciliatory tone with the minority. She said the party would not abuse its new political clout after elections of stronger majorities in both chambers and a Democrat for president. She promised to “govern from the middle” but staked out a middle ground that encompassed most of the Democrats’ agenda.
“Republicans have left a lot of field open as to how you define middle,” the California Democrat told reporters. “But I do think that the priorities that we’ve talked about will be the priorities that broadly address the needs of the American people.”
Mrs. Pelosi said: “It is our responsibility to find common ground when we can. And with our added numbers - more members in the House, more in the Senate and a Democrat in the White House … we have an opportunity, we have a responsibility and the American people should and will hold us accountable.”
Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma, the chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, said the political environment heavily favored congressional Democrats heading into Tuesday’s elections, as a struggling economy, the financial crisis on Wall Street, the ongoing Iraq war and the unpopular Bush administration were held against Republicans.
Republican woes were complicated by almost 30 Republican retirements in the House, compared with about a half-dozen on the Democratic side.
“It was about as difficult a situation environmentally as you can have,” Mr. Cole said, adding that they are poised to run strong candidates in 2010.
“Tough night — much prefer to win than to lose — but I don’t see the losses as catastrophic or irreversible,” Mr. Cole said. “I think actually we’ll have a pretty good situation going forward.”
Sen. Ted Stevens, an Alaska Republican who was convicted in a federal court last week after he concealed gifts from an oil services company, was holding on to a 47 percent to 46 percent lead with 99 percent of the precincts counted. His Democratic challenger, Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich, had a significant lead in most polls heading into Tuesday’s election.
A Dec. 2 runoff likely will determine the winner in Georgia, as Mr. Chambliss apparently came just short of winning enough votes to send him to a second term. Mr. Chambliss had 49.8 percent of the vote, shy of the 50 percent plus one required under state law to avoid a runoff, with 99 percent of precincts reporting Wednesday. Democrat Jim Martin had 46.8 percent of the vote, while Libertarian Allen Buckley garnered 3.4 percent.
The Associate Press declared Mr. Obama the winner in North Carolina Thursday, after the AP’s survey of the remaining provisional ballots found that Republican John McCain could not close a nearly 14,000-vote deficit. Mr. Obama now has 364 electoral votes, nearly 100 above the 270 needed to win the presidency. Only Missouri’s 11 electoral votes have yet to be allocated.
Mr. Obama’s North Carolina victory was the first time a Democratic presidential candidate carried the state since Jimmy Carter in 1976.
Jim McElhatton contributed to this report.