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Born at the Crest of the Empire

Friday, June 05, 2009

Rahm's wicked magic

It's too long to read, but there's a NYTimes Magazine piece on the mechanisms the Obama administration uses to work Congress. The main gist is that Biden and Emanuel work every Congressman and Senator while the administration overall does a gentle push and massage to get what they want through.
The second tenet of Emanuel’s theory is that the White House itself comes with strategic assets you can put to good use, if you allocate them properly. There’s the White House theater, where guests can watch movies and sporting events; formal state dinners; smaller gatherings in the first family’s residence, which spouses can join; tickets to the Easter-egg roll for kids; tickets to the White House tours that members like to give out to their constituents. These prizes are not handed out randomly or, as in the Bush White House, doled out mostly as rewards to allies who’ve demonstrated the requisite loyalty. Rather, in Obama’s nascent administration, they are considered carefully and accounted for obsessively. Emanuel holds a daily legislative meeting at which aides discuss the status of pending legislation, and often they go over the distribution of White House assets during those sessions. “We have a tracking system,” Emanuel told me. “Who came to watch the football game? Who came to watch the basketball game?”....

Fumbling clumsily to button my suit coat as I stood in his presence, I was reminded of how different it is to talk with someone who has actually assumed the historical weight of the presidency, even if you’ve spoken with him before. Emanuel knows this phenomenon is as real for senators and congressmen as it is for reporters, which is why he choreographs the same kind of “spontaneous” drop-bys when members comes to see him. “I’ll have a lunch here, and he’ll come by to say hi to Susan Collins the way he came by to see you,” Emanuel told me after Obama departed, referring to the senator from Maine. “It’s an efficient use of his time.”


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