WASHINGTON – The metamorphosis of Bruce Rauner from business tycoon and Democrat-bashing candidate to governor-elect of Illinois continued Friday, when he found himself on a couch in the Oval Office in a meeting with President Barack Obama.
Friday marked the second day of Rauner’s swing through here, with the White House organizing about six hours of briefings for seven incoming governors — two Democrats, one independent and four Republicans, including Rauner.
Obama sought common ground when he said — as the conversation with the freshmen started — “The good news about governors is they usually don’t have time to be ideological because people expect them to deliver. And that’s very much my attitude going into my last two years of office.”
The freshmen had a “working lunch” with Vice President Joe Biden, where Biden emphasized, his office said, “the importance of partnering with states to invest in our nation’s infrastructure and work force.”
During a brutal campaign, Rauner accused Gov. Pat Quinn and the Democratic leaders of the Illinois General Assembly of fiscal mismanagement and various other acts of skulduggery.
However, while contenders in other states bashed Obama, Rauner steered clear of criticizing the Illinois president in his quest for Democratic cross-over support, which included courting African-American voters in Chicago. Obama, first lady Michelle and Biden all came to Illinois to stump for Quinn.
For example, Texas Attorney General and Gov.-elect Greg Abbott – one of the other governors in the group — filed a lawsuit Wednesday seeking to block Obama’s recent immigration executive actions.
During the marathon day, Rauner and the others met with Cabinet secretaries – including Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell, who huddled with Mayor Rahm Emanuel when he was here on Wednesday; Education Secretary Arne Duncan, his “personal friend”; and Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx.
On Thursday, after meeting with the Illinois delegation in the Capitol, former Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and making some other rounds here, Rauner said he dined with Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker, another “personal friend.”
After the Oval Office meeting, Rauner and several of the other governors-elect — Alaska Gov. Bill Walker has been already sworn-in — emerged from the West Wing to talk to reporters. Rauner wore an Illinois-shaped pin on the lapel of his glen plaid suit.
“We’ve got to solve problems on a bipartisan basis,” said Rauner.
Post election, Rauner has dropped a lot of his partisan rhetoric. He has discovered that continuing to demonize Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, and Illinois Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, will give him – not them – a giant headache.
In Washington, Rauner’s reality is that he has to have relations with Obama and Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., to get any big agenda items.
And while Rauner talks about personal relationships, Emanuel, Obama’s former chief of staff, is as close or closer to the same people.
While Rauner and Emanuel are buddies, when it comes to moving federal resources to Illinois, Emanuel is more crafty, knows where federal money is tucked away and is in a position to, if need be, steer money to the city rather than the state.
One of the biggest federal/state issues waiting for Rauner is whether the Illinois General Assembly will approve state-run health insurance exchanges created under Obamacare.
Disagreements between Democrats in the Illinois General Assembly meant that the Obama-friendly Illinois – led by Democrat Quinn — never passed an Obamacare law. Illinois has been running an Obamacare exchange only because HHS granted Illinois a waiver for a hybrid program.
I asked Rauner if that was discussed.
Said Rauner, “That level of detail did not come up today on the Affordable Care Act. We’ll be talking about those issues in the future.”