The Washington Democratic establishment is awash with strong reactions to both Emanuel’s departure and Jarrett’s soon to be increased stature inside the White House.
“She has the president’s ear. She has the first lady’s confidence. People know of her importance. They know she occupies a significant piece of real estate over there,” said Donna Brazile, a veteran Democratic strategist who consults regularly with White House officials. “She pulls things together for the president the way he enjoys getting it pulled together. She has served him well.”
But one experienced Democratic political operative groaned when asked about Jarrett’s influence, grimacing and saying that Jarrett has little policy expertise and thinks an occasional dinner with CEOs constitutes outreach to the business community.
“I don’t think she stops anything good from happening,” the Democrat said sarcastically. Jarrett declined to comment for this article.
Another Democrat with years of experience in Washington politics said Jarrett is “not doing [Obama] a great service.”
“She’s not experienced in Washington, inexperienced on policy and inexperienced on politics. And she has very little experience in dealing with the media,” he said.
As for Rahm, the consensus among many in Obama world is good riddance to the larger-than-life chief of staff who joined the team after the election and was never really one of them.
In their view, the president is ridding himself of a self-serving and overly pragmatic firebrand who sacrificed progressive principles for political reasons – especially during the health care debate – and disrupted the relative cohesion around Obama that existed during the campaign.
Now, they can recover the mojo they had, some Obama loyalists believe, with an inner circle that will run the White House more efficiently and manage it more effectively than Rahm has. One Obama adviser called Rahm’s tenure as chief of staff “a shambles.”
Rahm often clashed with the liberal and progressive grassroots, who wanted immediate and drastic action on things like closing the Guantanamo Bay prison, ending the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, and a government-run “public option” in health care. He also has his own extensive network of contacts within the press based on his many years of experience in the city, which allowed him to operate as something of a rogue agent in a West Wing that prizes message control.
But a Rahm defender said the chief of staff was being made a scapegoat for larger, more complex problems that were partly in the nature of the presidency’s challenges and also partly the fault of others inside the White House.
“The Obama White House does not lack for efficiency. It lacks for passion, pragmatism and political balls. Rahm had all three. He leaves a huge hole,” the Rahm ally said. “President Obama is a hugely talented and brilliant guy. And anyone who trashes Rahm is attacking Obama’s judgment in a fundamental way.”