EDITORS’NOTE: For a comprehensive look at a host of additional associates, appointees, and allies who have been important figures in the political career of Barack Obama, click here.
Two days after defeating John McCain, Barack Obama made his first appointment as president-elect when he named 49-year-old Rahm Emanuel to be his chief of staff. Formerly an aide to Bill Clinton and currently the Democratic Representative for Illinois’ 5th congressional district, Emanuel has suddenly become a figure of great interest to the American public.
Yet there has been much disagreement about where, on the political spectrum, his politics fall. Some critics have derided him as the prototype of a partisan leftist. Others, such as ABC reporter Claire Shipman and CNN correspondent Frank Sesno, have characterized him, respectively, as “a pragmatic, centrist politician” and as someone “on the center to center-right.” Whom are we to believe?In February 2004 Emanuel voted against the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, which proposed to make it an added criminal offense for someone to injure or kill a fetus while carrying out a crime against a pregnant woman. Twice Emanuel voted against the Child Interstate Abortion Notification Act, whose purpose was to prohibit the transportation of a minor across state lines to obtain an abortion without a parent’s (or a legal guardian’s) consent. In December 2006 Emanuel voted against the Abortion Pain Bill, which mandated that abortion providers, prior to performing an abortion on a fetus older than 20 weeks, inform the mother that the fetus might feel pain during the procedure, and that the use of some pain-reducing drugs may have health risks associated with them.
The notion that Emanuel is a centrist emerged in 2006 when, to the dismay of many on the political Left, he recruited numerous moderate Democratic candidates to run for election in Southern and Midwestern districts. While left-wing partisans objected to the Democratic Party’s association with “reactionaries” like Jim Webb, the Marine veteran and current Virginia Senator, Emanuel understood that doctrinaire leftists stood little chance of winning in these traditionally conservative enclaves. Emanuel’s shrewd strategy ultimately enabled Democrats to gain a whopping 30 congressional seats in 2006, and thereby to seize control of the House of Representatives.
But is this sufficient proof of Emanuel’s centrism? After all, it can reasonably be argued that Emanuel’s tactic of hand-picking Democratic moderates was merely the first step in a long-term bait-and-switch strategy where such individuals, once elected, could gradually be pressured by the party hierarchy to either drift leftward or surrender their positions to more liberal candidates.
There is only one reliable way to settle the question of whether Rahm Emanuel should be defined as a leftist or as a centrist. We must look carefully at the voting record he has compiled—on an array of vital issues—during his six years in Congress.
Consider, for starters, Emanuel’s position on taxes, where his voting record has been overwhelmingly on the side of higher tax rates. In May 2003 he voted against a $350 billion tax cut which contained, among other things, a provision to eliminate the so-called “marriage tax penalty.” A year later, he voted against a proposal to extend the alternative minimum tax relief that had been available in 2003 and 2004. Also in May 2004, he voted against a proposal to make the $1,000-per-child tax credit permanent rather than letting it decline. Four months later he voted against another bill calling for a five-year extension on the $1,000 child tax credit.
In October 2004 Emanuel voted against a ten-year, $145 billion tax cut for domestic manufacturers and small corporations. In April 2005 he voted against a proposal to permanently repeal the estate tax. In November 2005 he voted against a bill calling for a $49.91 billion reduction in federal spending over a five-year period. Twelve months later he voted against a similar five-year proposal for $56.1 billion in federal spending reductions; that bill also called for the retention of a reduced tax rate on capital gains and dividends.
In May 2006 Emanuel voted against $69.96 billion in tax cuts and credits through 2010, including reductions of capital gains taxes and dividends taxes. The following month, he voted against a proposal to reduce estate taxes beginning in 2010. The most notable exception to Emanuel’s generally across-the-board espousal of higher taxation occurred in January 2008, when he supported a bill giving single taxpayers a credit of up to $600, and joint filers a credit of up to $1,200.
Unsurprisingly, organizations that lobby in favor of lower taxes and smaller government are uniformly unimpressed by Emanuel’s legislative record. Americans for Tax Reform gives him a score of 5 percent; The National Tax Limitation Committee rates him at 6 percent. FreedomWorks, which “fights for lower taxes, less government and more economic freedom for all Americans,” is slightly more generous: 10 percent. The National Taxpayers Union gives him a grade of F.
On energy-related issues, Emanuel has consistently rejected proposals that would allow the U.S.to harness its own natural reserves of fossil fuels. In May 2006, for instance, he voted against aproposal to provide funds for offshore oil exploration along the Outer Continental Shelf. Instead, he favored a continuation of President Clinton’s 1998 moratorium on oil drilling. In October 2005 and June 2006, Emanuel voted against the construction of new oil refineries.
Emanuel’s positions on the war on terror and national security are also worthy of note. In September 2006 he voted against a bill authorizing the President to establish military commissions to try enemy combatants captured in the war on terror. In Emanuel’s view, such tribunals trample on the civil rights and liberties of defendants who presumably should be entitled to all the rights and protections afforded by the American criminal court system—where the standards that govern the admissibility of evidence are considerably stricter than the counterpart standards in military tribunals.
In September 2006 Emanuel voted against an amendment to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) of 1978; this amendment called for permitting the government to use electronic surveillance to investigate suspected terrorist operatives. In May 2007 he voted in favor of a proposal to expedite the transfer of all prisoners currently being held in the Guantanamo Bay detention center, most of whom are, as Gordon Cucullu wrote in The American Enterprise, “not innocent foot soldiers” but rather “Islamic fundamentalists from across the Middle East, rabid jihadists who have dedicated their lives to the destruction of America and Western civilization.”
In August 2007 Emanuel voted against a bill authorizing the Director of National Intelligence and the Attorney General to monitor suspected terrorists’ foreign electronic communications that are routed through the United States. In June 2008 he voted in favor of a bill specifically prohibiting this type of surveillance.
It should be pointed out that in July 2005 Emanuel did cast one notable vote in favor of enhanced national security measures: he supported reauthorization of the post-9/11 anti-terrorism legislation known as the Patriot Act. But overall, Emanuel has disappointed advocates of strengthening national security measures in the war on terror. The Center for Security Policy, which is committed to “promoting international peace through American strength,” has rated him variously between 17 percent and 35 percent. The American Security Council, which “serves as educational secretariat of the Congressional Caucus on National Security,”gives him a mere 10 percent rating.
It does not exaggerate Emanuel’s positions on the Iraq War to say that they have generally fallen under the category of surrender. In June 2006 he voted against a resolution stating that it was against America’s national security interest to set an arbitrary date for the withdrawal of its troops from Iraq, and that a better course of action would be to withdraw the troops only upon the “completion of the mission to create a sovereign, free, secure and united Iraq.” In February 2007 he voted against the so-called troop “surge”—the deployment of some 21,500 additional U.S.soldiers in an effort to quell the violent insurgents in Iraq. In May 2007 he voted in favor of an amendment to withdraw U.S.troops from Iraq within 90 days. Two months later, he voted to begin dramatically reducing the presence of U.S.troops in Iraq by April 1, 2008.
Emmanuel again found himself in the Left’s good graces in June 2008, when he voted in favor of exploring the possibility of impeaching President Bush on grounds that he allegedly had misrepresented U.S.intelligence on Iraq so as to justify the March 2003 American invasion.
On the subject of illegal immigration, Emanuel has done little to inspire confidence that he will place a premium on guarding America’s borders with anything more than hollow rhetoric. In May 2004 he voted “No” on requiring hospitals to report (to the federal government) illegal aliens who receive emergency medical treatment. In February 2005 he voted against the Real ID Act, which proposed to set minimal security requirements for state driver licenses and identification cards.
In December 2005 he voted against a bill calling for, among other provisions, the construction of some 700 miles of fencing along America’s southern border; the establishment of a system requiring business owners to verify the legal status of all their employees; the detention of any person attempting to enter the U.S. illegally after October 1, 2006; an increase in the penalties on anyone attempting to smuggle illegal aliens into the U.S.; the annual provision of $250 million to pay state and local police agencies for their assistance in enforcing federal immigration laws; and funding for a program mandating that “removable criminal aliens” in prison be deported following the completion of their prison sentences, rather than be released into American communities. The American Civil Liberties Union, which opposes the foregoing provisions, has given Emanuel a perfect grade of 100 percent.
In June 2006 Emanuel voted in favor of an amendment prohibiting the U.S. government from tipping off Mexican officials as to the whereabouts of operatives working for the Minuteman Project, a nonviolent organization of American citizens who alert the U.S.Border Patrol to the presence of unauthorized border-crossers in the Southwestern states.
In September 2006 Emanuel again voted against a bill authorizing the construction of 700 miles of double-layered fencing between the U.S. and Mexico. That same month, he also voted against a proposal to grant state and local officials the authority to investigate, identify, and arrest illegal immigrants.
The U.S. Border Control, which is “is dedicated to ending illegal immigration by securing our nation’s borders and reforming our immigration policies,” gives Emanuel a rating of 8 percent. The Federation for American Immigration Reform, which “seeks to improve border security, to stop illegal immigration, and to promote immigration levels consistent with the national interest,” rates him an unequivocal zero. By contrast, the American Immigration Lawyers Association, which favors open borders and an expansion of rights and liberties for illegal aliens, gives Emanuel a 100 percent rating.
It is instructive also to note that in September 2007 Emanuel voted in favor of a bill calling on money lenders “to use risk-based pricing to more effectively reach underserved borrowers.” In effect, this bill endorsed the issuance of subprime loans to under-capitalized borrowers—the very practice that eventually would lead to the cataclysmic collapse of Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and the mortgage industry. Emanuel, incidentally, had served onthe Freddie Mac board from 2000 to 2001, during which time the mortgage giant was plagued by such major scandals as accounting fraud and illegal campaign contributions to congressional candidates. It is hardly surprising that Emanuel has received a 100 percent rating from ACORN, the notorious activist group that for many years has played a major role in pressuring banks to make subprime loans—to say nothing of its involvement in campaigns of voter-registration fraud.
Next, consider Emanuel’s record on abortion and the rights of the unborn. On this issue, too, his alleged centrism is nowhere in evidence On three separate occasions, he voted against legislation that would have banned the late-term procedure commonly known as partial-birth abortion. The controversial practice, in which the doctor makes an incision at the base of the baby’s skull and then vacuums the brain out with a suction catheter, was banned under a 2003 federal law, which was upheld by the SupremeCourt in 2007. Bill Frist, the former Senate majority leader and himself apracticing surgeon has called the procedure “barbaric.”
As a result of his unwavering support for abortion-on-demand, Emanuel has consistently received ratings of 100 percent from NARAL and Planned Parenthood. These ratings indicate that Emanuel’s votes and stated positions on abortion-related matters have mirrored, literally without exception, the positions of these organizations. Indeed, since at least 1995 Emanuel has supported the agendas of Planned Parenthood fully 100 percent of the time.
Finally, note Emanuel’s stance on gay marriage. In September 2004 he voted against a bill that would have prohibited same-sex marriage, and in July 2006 he voted against a proposed constitutional amendment defining marriage in America exclusively as the union of one man and one woman.
By all accounts, Rahm Emmanuel is a savvy political operator. But if his voting record is anything to go by, a penchant for centrist accommodation is not among the talents he will bring to his new role as White House chief of staff.