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Rauner’s D.C. debut: Not for congressional term limits

UPDATED . . . WASHINGTON — Republican Bruce Rauner made his first visit to Capitol Hill on Thursday as the governor-elect of Illinois, a day ahead of a meeting with President Barack Obama with whom, he said, they shared some personal friends in common: Democrats Marty Nesbitt, Arne Duncan and Penny Pritzker.

In an unusual coincidence, Mayor Rahm Emanuel was also in town on the second of a two-day swing where he hit the White House, huddled with cabinet secretaries and breakfasted with Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., in the Capitol.

While these precincts are familiar turf to the wily Emanuel – after stints in the Clinton and Obama administrations and Congress – Rauner is a Washington rookie, notwithstanding his long-time acquaintance with the president.

“I have known President Obama actually since he was a state senator,” Rauner said. “And we have many mutual friends in common.”

I asked how they met.

“Through mutual friends. Marty Nesbitt, who is one of his personal advisers, is a friend of mine. Arne Duncan, who is head of education, is a personal friend of mine. And I will be working very closely with the Obama administration. Penny Pritzker actually is a good personal friend of mine,” Rauner said.

Nesbitt is the Obama buddy who is the chair of the Barack Obama Foundation; Duncan is the education secretary – and former Chicago public schools chief — who figured in the story over whether Rauner clouted his daughter into an elite city high school. Pritzker is the commerce secretary.

Rauner’s most important Washington sherpa is Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., who hosted a delegation lunch for Rauner in a room on the Senate side of the Capitol, to which all the Democratic and Republican Illinois lawmakers were invited

And while over the past year Illinois House Republicans have been mostly skipping the regular delegation lunch that takes place in Durbin’s office, they all turned out on Thursday for Rauner.

As Rauner rounded a corner in the Capitol en route to a room on the Senate side where he held a brief press conference, marching behind him, almost as an honor guard, were Illinois GOP House members Peter Roskam, Rodney Davis, Aaron Schock, John Shimkus and Adam Kinzinger. Randy Hultgren joined the group later.

“I look forward to working closely with all the members of the Illinois delegation in Congress,” Rauner said as he was flanked by only Republican Illinois lawmakers and seated next to Kirk.

Rauner said a focus of the visit was getting personnel recommendations from the lawmakers, and he was not looking for “somebody’s brother-in-law” or a person who “worked on somebody’s campaign.”

I had never laid eyes on Rauner before. I observed how he executed a pivot –didn’t miss a beat — when he was asked by a reporter whether there should be term limits for federal lawmakers.

This was not an idle philosophical question, since Rauner campaigned heavily on term limits. So if Rauner said, yes, he was for term limits for Congress, that would wipe out, over time, all the veteran lawmakers – some Capitol lifers — standing helpfully at his side.

Should there be term limits on federal lawmakers?

Replied Rauner, “Well, as you know, I am a believer in term limits. And I am an advocate and I will continue to be. I will be pushing for term limits for all elected officials in Springfield.”

And Washington?

“Washington has its own processes, has its own process. I am a governor-to-be and my focus is Springfield and state government, and I will be pushing aggressively to get term limits in place,” he said.

Welcome to town, Gov.-elect Rauner.


Rauner is one of seven newly elected governors getting a crash course on Washington on Friday. The governors lunch with Vice President Joe Biden and in the late afternoon meet with Obama. In between the White House has scheduled meetings with: Secretaries Arne Duncan (Education); Anthony Foxx (Transportation); Sylvia Burwell (HHS); EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy; Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett; Director of the Domestic Policy Council Cecilia Munoz; Director of the National Economic Council Jeff Zients and Director of the Office of Management and Budget Shaun Donovan.