Obama in talks with another Chicago insider to replace Rahm Emanuel — William Daley

Amanda Carey Contributor
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President Obama is considering William Daley to replace Rahm Emanuel as White House chief of staff, it was reported Monday. The JPMorgan executive is the brother of Richard Daley — whom Emanuel in turn is looking to replace as Chicago mayor.

William Daley’s career in Washington began during the Clinton administration when, in 1993, he was a special adviser to the president on the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). From 1997 to 2000, he served as secretary of commerce.

Since Daley help get NAFTA passed, he has been viewed unfavorably by big labor and unions such as the AFL-CIO, which strongly opposed the deal. The rocky relationship followed Daley into his next position, when he became chairman of Al Gore’s presidential campaign in 2000.

Daley’s position on Gore’s campaign heightened the already tense relationship between labor and the former vice president. A spokesperson for the Teamsters Unions was quoted at the time as saying, “We view this appointment as a slap in the face to labor.” It was reported then that AFL-CIO President John Sweeney was so miffed by the appointment that he refused to take of Daley’s calls.

Despite the big labor backlash, Daley didn’t back down from his views on NAFTA. In a 1997 interview with the L.A. Times, Daley responded to union criticism saying, “There’s a lot more dislocation, job change that’s occurred over the last number of years more as a result of technology advances than trade agreements. But again, the very positive economy we have has been able to absorb those changes. People lose jobs, but overall, it’s an extremely positive climate for the labor market.”

A decade later, the question is whether labor unions are still holding a grudge against the person who could become President Obama’s closest aide.

Daley, a lifelong Democrat, has made no pretenses about his belief in a more moderate Democratic Party. In 2009, he penned an op-ed for the Washington Post entitled, “Keep the Big Tent Big.” In it, he predicted major Democratic losses if the party did not move in a centrist direction and said that the “party’s most liberal supporters has not won the support of a majority of Americans.”

“But now they [Democrat congressmen] face a grim political fate. On the one hand, centrist Democrats are being vilified by left-wing bloggers, pundits, and partisan outlets for not being sufficiently liberal, ‘true’ Democrats,” wrote Daley. “On the other, Republicans are pounding them for their association with a party that seems to be advancing an agenda far to the left of most voters.”

“The political dangers of this situation could not be clearer,” he added, citing the recent gubernatorial wins of Chris Christie in New Jersey and Bob McDonnell in Virginia, and President Obama’s declining poll numbers.

Daley’s warnings proved correct, but that doesn’t necessarily make him more accepted by Obama’s liberal base.

Nor does it help that Daley was an outspoken critic of the health-care bill. Last year he was quoted in the New York Times as saying, “They miscalculated on health care. The election of ’08 sent a message that after 30 years of center-right governing, we had moved to center left – not left.”

Moreover, Daley’s current position as Midwest chairman of JPMorgan Chase & Co., is likely to draw protests from liberal groups who view him as having strong ties to Wall Street.

On Monday, Bloomberg reported that talks with Daley began over the holidays, though his appointment is not yet a done deal. If appointed, he will be taking over from interim Chief of Staff Pete Rouse, who stepped in to fill the vacancy left by Rahm Emanuel.

Rouse has indicated he is willing to stay if asked by Obama, but he has expressed a desire to leave government work.

Daley would be joining a long list of Chicago insiders that have worked inside the Obama administration, including David Axelrod, Valerie Jarrett and David Ploufe.