U.S. President-elect Barack Obama has asked Illinois congressman and former soldier in the Israeli army, Rahm Emanuel to head his White House staff as he moves quickly to fill government jobs in his incoming administration.
Party sources said the job was offered to fellow Chicagoan Emanuel on Wednesday, just hours after Obama was elected, and he was expected to quickly accept the post — making him one of the most important people of Obama’s new inside circle.
Emanuel volunteered to serve in the Israeli army and did a two-month stint at a base in northern Israel during the 1991 Gulf War, Israeli public radio reported.
Israel radio stations and newspapers pointed out Emanuel’s Occupied Jerusalem-born father was once a member of Irgun, an underground, ultra-nationalist Jewish movement that fought British troops before the 1948 creation of the state of Israel.
A former Clinton adviser, Emanuel has a reputation of being a master strategist. But he has also been viewed as a highly partisan fighter in the rough world of Washington politics.
"I am a man who has been called temperamental, vindictive, foulmouthed and mean. And that’s just my mom bragging about me," he said in a self-deprecating speech at an annual dinner held by Washington journalists last year.
Republicans questioned if Emanuel could pull off Obama’s goal of bringing congressional Democrats and Republicans together to end gridlock and approve major legislation — a key element of Obama’s campaign appeal.
Emanuel served in the Clinton administration and helped engineer the 2006 Democratic takeover of the House, ending 12 years of Republican rule.
He has strong ties to Obama’s inner circle through his close friendship with the president-elect’s top political strategist, David Axelrod. Axelrod had done political consulting work for Emanuel.
Israeli Media Hails Decision
Israeli media on Thursday hailed Barack Obama’s choice of Rahm Emanuel to be his chief of staff, with one daily calling the Democrat of Israeli descent "our man in the White House."
"It is obvious he will exert influence on the president to be pro-Israeli," Emanuel’s father, who moved to the United States in the 1960s, told the Maariv daily.
The newspaper headlined the article: "Our man in the White House."
"Emanuel is pro-Israeli, and would not be willing to consider accepting the job unless he was convinced that President-elect Obama is pro-Israel" Israeli website Ynet, cited a source close to Emanuel as saying.
As White House chief of staff, Emanuel would serve as gatekeeper to Obama, deciding who has access to the Oval Office.
The duties of the position vary from administration to administration, but generally the chief of staff serves as the president’s top adviser, plays a major role in selection of the president’s appointees, and manages other White House officials. He would help plan the president’s agenda.
Emanuel, 48, was elected to the House in 2002 from Obama’s hometown of Chicago and quickly moved into leadership.
After Democrats won back the House, Emanuel was elected as chairman of the Democratic Caucus, making him the party’s fourth-ranking member in the chamber.
Obama, who will be sworn in as president on January 20, is moving quickly to put together his new administration.