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Emanuel: ‘Donald Trump is THE issue’ of the midterms

On October 22 in New York City, CNN Host Fareed Zakaria sat down with Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. | Screenshot



As part of the program, CNN Host Fareed Zakaria sat down with Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Full transcript below.


RAHM EMANUEL, MAYOR OF CHICAGO: All right sounds like I’m sitting down with my mother.

ZAKARIA: So you’re going to want to talk about Chicago infrastructure, education, all the great things you’ve done there. But first I’m going to ask you about inevitably the main topic of — of — of certainly a certain amount of cable news.

Donald Trump really doesn’t seem to like Chicago. I mean I can’t think of a president who has …

EMANUEL: Well, guess what? Chicago doesn’t like Donald Trump. So we’re even.

ZAKARIA: That’s right. He got 12 percent of the vote.

EMANUEL: And it’s gone down since.

ZAKARIA: But what is it you think — I mean I can’t remember another president singling out a city and constantly denigrating it and saying what the hell is going on with Chicago? Why do you think he’s so fixated on Chicago?

EMANUEL: To distract you.

ZAKARIA: But why Chicago?

EMANUEL: Well just a lot of political reasons that he tries to use it as an organizing tool for the rest of the Midwest throughout (ph) the country (ph) is we’re all politics and that’s what — basic thing.

And he hasn’t really done anything. We’re recently fighting with him on the consent decree and sessions but, you know, we’ll get it done. He just does it as basically a political ploy.

ZAKARIA: Does it work?

EMANUEL: Well, how about this — he said he was going to stop the consent decree. It’s already done and we’ll have it signed in December and go forward. So you tell me.

ZAKARIA: Do you — do you think that you’re a great political strategist? Do you think what he is doing with the midterm elections is smart? He has essentially nationalized the elections around two things; immigration and impeachment. He says you vote for democrats, they’re going to open the boarders and they’re going to undo the results of the 2016 election.

EMANUEL: Well before I say — yes and no is the answer. So it’s not totally. So before I would answer it, I would step back. So if you look at any midterm election, there is a couple of things that aren’t right and are right.

And what I mean by that is in 1982, 1994, 2006, and 2010 when you had major changes and wave elections, every one of them had a recession. This is the first one without a recession. Difference.

Two, part of the elections are because the president’s party at that, the base is depressed. That’s not the case right now. I would describe this moment as a blue wave with a red undertow that is happening.

ZAKARIA: Hasn’t he managed to do that? The Democrats (ph) have said …


EMANUEL: No – (inaudible) he gets – and then Donald Trump is neither Ronald Regan, Bill Clinton, George Bush, or Barack Obama, and so, he’s an unknown phenomena. What he has done well is energize his base because that’s – part of a midterm election is an energized base and a depressed base. And he has equalized that to date.

I would argue he’s probably done a good job now from this, basically, to the last three weeks, and now in the close. And I think the Democrats – when I ran ’06 we had six in ’06. There’s not an organizing piece to that.

What I would do as the Democrats is three things, one on tactics. You have a House election, a Senate election, and you have a governor’s election. And I would add the portfolio of all three. And the reason I would is you have a House – you pretty much know the Senate is, right, to date?

You have a pretty good sense of the House. But you’re going to also, for sure, pick up seats in the governor’s race. And in the governor’s race they have more to do with 2020, where this election has more to do with being a checkmate.

I was finalize and close the election since Donald Trump is the issue. Yes, there’s healthcare. There are other issues. But the fact of the matter is Donald Trump is the issue. And then, he’s closing around, as you said, impeachment and immigration.

And we should close the election by – you can either have a checkmate or a blank check. Which one do you want? And we have to do an affirmative argument rather than trying to keep this impeachment thing off the table. An argument about him that gives some value because there’s three types of an electorate, energize Republicans, energize Democrats, and a (inaudible) vote. And there is a (inaudible) vote.

And a lot of them I look at are in this room right now. Everybody that in 2016 didn’t vote at the level (ph) and they’re energized at a level, college educated women, who didn’t turn out at the full level for Hillary Clinton. And they’re coming in with a (inaudible) vote. And that’s our vote.

When you look at the House, the gubernatorial, and some the Senate races, that vote counts. And making sure that there’s a checkmate on him counts because we have to keep that energized, promoted. And more than energized, motivated, and socially motivated to also talk to all the other parts of their social networks.

ZAKARIA: Do you think the Democrats should talk about the possible impeachment of Donald Trump, or does that drive up his base?


ZAKARIA: Why not?

EMANUEL: Because – I wouldn’t – that is because it creates a rift with the very vote of the (inaudible) vote. Your goal in an election is to keep your base not just energized, but motivated. It’s a different piece.

And to also make sure that the swing-motivated swing voters, or the voters that will determine election outcomes, both, across the House, the Senate, and the gubernatorial, come your way. And that election – that method only plays into, you know, you’re basically leading with your chin.

ZAKARIA: What about on immigration? It feels – seems to me that when you look at the polling, this is the place where a lot of the public, particularly the white working class, is uncomfortable with where they think the Democratic Party is. What should – should Democrats move right on immigration?

EMANUEL: Well, I don’t think – no. I don’t think that because it would be – it would be a tactical thing and people would read through it. There’s a more robust message we should have about immigration. And I think that would be a mistake.

So there’s, both, a political and a policy. If you’re just talking about politics I think that the discussion of family issues would work well in the House because that has to do with family separation at the border in the House races. And it would work there. But I actually think it is a – what Democrats should do is talk correctly about immigration, about having — well, it needs — their policy needs reform and it needs comprehensive reform. It has to deal with both skilled, unskilled, a values identity (ph), and it has to deal with both being a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants.

And you know, you are talking to the son and the grandson of an immigrant. My grandfather came here a hundred years ago, to – here, being here to Chicago. My father came, in the 50s, from Israel. And you’re also a child of an immigrant.

ZAKARIA: I’m an immigrant.

EMANUEL: Yes. And so, my — my view of this is there’s a way to talk about this that is consistent with our aspirations. If you were just purely talking about the election, it depends on different parts of it.

ZAKARIA: But when Democrats talk about sanctuary cities, that gives the Republicans an opening to say, “These people don’t want to –“

EMANUEL: But here — so in Chicago, we talk about it as being a welcoming city. The language is different, but it’s also true to who we are and our values. Being Chicago today, which is no different than urban school system, we have 140 languages spoken in our public schools.

Now I’ve been to many schools where there’s 26, 27, from every side of the Atlantic and the Pacific, same school, and guess what? The parents will send their kids regardless of faith, language or culture — have the same aspiration for that child, whether that journey was the Pacific or the Atlantic.

And to me, that’s a unifying way — and I was just a school the other day, they won a Blue Ribbon Award, and it’s on the northwest side of the city of Chicago, near O’Hare. And there were — the kids did a beautiful song; it would happen to be the day that, also, Donald Trump did something about Chicago.

And to me, if you could be in that room and you see kids of all walks of life of many backgrounds and ethnicity, I think, then, it was 16 languages in that particular school. Their parents have the same aspiration that you and I have for our children, regardless of where they came from.

And that, to me, is a unifying aspirational part of integration, and that’s where we should be because it’s true to who we are. Everything else, you’d be mimicking and be seen — seen as inauthentic, and at a period of time where people want something authentic, and they should, especially something you care about.

It should be aspirational and unifying, and that’s around families and children and their dreams and what America can offer.

ZAKARIA: But if they can successfully characterize what you are presenting on sanctuary cities and not, you know, very surficial (ph), what they’re saying is that local law officials should not obey federal law, that — you know, imagine if the roles were reversed —

EMANUEL: Fareed –Fareed — Fareed, let me just say this, first of all (ph) —

ZAKARIA: — the republican may refuse to enforce gun laws or whatever —

EMANUEL: No, look. The Chicago Police Department, we have a philosophy of community policing. If you turn your head on that and ask communities not to work with police, you’re actually asking us to do something that’s against public safety.

You want people to come forward to work with police. If you ask us to turn that inside out, it’s actually against public safety. So the way to beat that argument, it’s about — it’s anti-community policing, it’s bad public safety and will lead to problems.

And you make it about crime and the inverse, and take a bat and beat him over the head with it, in a very gentle way, so don’t worry about it — in a non-hostile fashion.

ZAKARIA: Why are you not running for a third term?

EMANUEL: So I can be here with you. Look, here’s the thing; there’s two reasons. It’s pretty straightforward. One is, as of two months ago, Amy and I became empty nesters, and in the last 16 years of my life, I’ve — not that my family became second, but like when I had become President Obama’s chief of staff, Amy and the kids stayed in Chicago for eight months.

And then when I ran for mayor, there was nine months they stayed in D.C. Here’s the first time the two planes are landing at the same time.

The other piece is I got elected a Congressmen in 2002. In 2004, I became the DCCC chair. In 2006, I became the caucus chair youngest member ever elected leadership.

In 2008, I became President Obama’s chief of staff. And then in early 2011, I became mayor. Got reelected, it’s been 16 straight years — five I would call it Himalayan Mountains. And I’m allowed to say, I’m not allowed.

In the third term — you know, certainly (ph) no disrespect, I apologize if you’re from Phoenix or Albuquerque. Chicago’s not Phoenix or Albuquerque, and you have to be all in, 100 percent. And I had to be honest with myself, and therefore I owe the pubic honesty, if you get elected for four year third term, you owe the public four years of 100 percent.

And after those 16 years, I didn’t — I had about a year, year and a half, plus Amy and I, as I really believe we’re young enough to go write another chapter together. And I’ve asked a lot of my wife —


EMANUEL: For 16 years.

ZAKARIA: So, if that’s the case, you think after about a year of R&R, you’ll be ready to maybe do something like a national presidential campaign?

EMANUEL: First of all —

ZAKARIA: Seems plenty of time to rest.

EMANUEL: I just — yes. OK, well just so you know given that I’m a bit of a neurotic person and the middle child of a very narcotic family. The going bet in my household is whether dad can make it an hour or two relaxing before he throws himself in to the next thing.

So, I’m not going to be relaxed, I think. But I can tell you with 100 percent certainly that I have no interest of — I did eight years in the Oval Office. I have no interest in returning to the White House.


EMANUEL: I mean I have no interest in — you said to run for it. I have no interest in doing it, never. I actually think the Senators — so I’m writing a book I’ll be — it’s not out. But since you wanted to talk about my book, I’ll answer your questions about it.

ZAKARIA: By the way —

EMANUEL: Hold on —

ZAKARIA: Your publicist was (inaudible) —


ZAKARIA: You want to talk about it when it’s in the book store —

EMANUEL: Yes, yes.

ZAKARIA: Talking about it now makes no (inaudible) —

EMANUEL: Yes. Well, right no I’m going to give you the cartoon version of it, OK? So, it’s about basically the center of gravity is moving towards a city state format, the national governments are atrophying, and you have about 100 cities around the globe that are running the economic, intellectual, and cultural energy.

And they are solving big problems. And in the past, where you would think about policies developing here and then moving up nationally, they’re now moving across from city to city, state to state. And no — like one thing I’m very proud about.

In Chicago, I created a thing called the Chicago Star scholarship. If you get a B average in high school, community college is free. And it’s the only pubic funded scholarship a dreamer can get in America.

The governor of Tennessee under a republican, he has aversion. Governor of Oregon, she has aversion. I think governor of Cuomo also — you see anybody saying let’s go see Betsy Devos? Does anybody? Like I got to book a fight, I’ll be there at three, why don’t you join me?

There’s no — nobody’s going to Washington. But we’re all sharing different ideas. Greg Fischer in Louisville, has a sheet of music off of this. The mayor of Dayton has a sheet of music; Mayor Hancock in Denver has a Denver Promise.

Everybody’s trying to figure the 14th great, because 12 doesn’t cut it anymore. And — but nobody’s trying to go figure out as Washington because there’s no money, no will, no capacity. And that’s where the center of gravity is, it’s going horizontal. And we’re still solving — and what you all described as a fly over America, we’re still solving problems in real ways with political stability and tipping the scales.

ZAKARIA: So, many people would consider the big problem in America is education, K-12. You’ve spent a lot of time on it. If somebody were to ask you what is the solution to making American schools great again, what would you answer?

EMANUEL: Well, it’s not one thing. So let’s start there. And I’ll give you one — this is not the main thing but I was talking to some kids and one child said to me, student, I’m homeschooled.

And I said breaking news, every child is homeschooled. So don’t forget the most important door a child walks through for their education is in the home. At the school door; there’s two ways or three things that I think are important.

One, I think the entire national debate is wrong. It’s not about the teacher, it’s about the principal. The principal runs the building, creates the culture, creates the accountability and that’s where the focus is. Now today; Stanford, University of Chicago, and UIC, University of Illinois Chicago; all have rated Chicago as one of the best urban school systems in the United States.

Our freshman on track rate for graduation is 89 percent. 84 percent of the kids are at poverty or below.

ZAKARIA: But what did you do to make that happen?

EMANUEL: One is focus on principals. We have a retention curriculum (ph) and we got the universities in the Chicago area helping us and we give them accountability and the authority to do their job and create that culture.

And we have a principal, Dr. Jackson (ph), who is the CEO of the public school system. Two, you focus on the school. 80 percent, which is correct (ph) — 80 percent of a child’s life is outside the school.

So we have now 125,000 kids in afterschool programs, 33,000 kids in summer jobs. To get it, you have to sign a pledge you’re going to go to college. Eighty-thousand kids go on a safe passage route.

We have all this investment — we have now 8,000 — 7,800 (ph) young men in a full four year mentoring program. Your investments out of school have to support what happens in school. And a lot of time is only spent on the classroom or the teacher and there’s all this other that you are missing. The principal is the key.

Second, it’s about quality, not about brand. It’s quality versus mediocrity, not about charter versus neighborhood. I have closed charters and I have opened new charters. But it’s not about that.

ZAKARIA: But a lot of people say the Democratic Party can’t really reform the education system because one out of three delegates at next Democratic National Convention will be a member of the teacher’s union.

EMANUEL: Well, I don’t buy that argument, and there’s a lot of democratic mayors who are making major changes in that effort. So that I don’t buy, and you have to be willing to — the teachers aren’t the problem. They’re part of the solution.

But I’d also say the — I’d say two things. One, the paradigm is not about the teachers, it’s about the principal. And it’s not about charter versus neighborhood; it’s about quality versus mediocrity. And that’s exactly how parent’s think about it.

The other thing is I have added the most time to the school day in the United States of America. An hour and 15 minutes to everyday and two weeks to every year. Then we made kindergarten full day for every child.

We’re now making full day pre-k universal for every child. We added four and a half — four years of classroom time then prior. So if you were born two years ago and you were born a decade ago, today the child two years ago gets four more years of education than a decade ago.

And if 83 percent of your children, at least in an urban system, are poverty or below, time in class counts. But again, you have to support the classroom with all — but Fareed, I have three kids. One’s a runner, one was a rover (ph), one’s a dancer.

They all have afterschool activities that engage their mind. During the summer, everybody has a reading program. So we have a thing we just won two years in a row through our library system, the best summer reading program in America.

And we go – it’s called Roms (ph) Readers, and we have kids – about 100,000 kids. And I’ll give you one other thing. If you’re child or my child has a problem in school on a topic, we can afford to support it.

So in every library in Chicago, all 81 neighborhood libraries, from three to six is a teacher, free tutor, on any subject. If you got a library card in English and Spanish, go online, you have live tutoring on any topic all the way through physics.

So what we do is ensure – regardless of your background or income, you need a tutor, we do – we provide that. You need after school activities – 125,000 kids and only a third of the kids are it. You need summer jobs to both not only get a job, but the values with it, we do that, and you sign a pledge you’ll go to college.

Sixty-eight percent of the children in the city of Chicago go to college. It is one of the highest in the country for an urban school system. So the support outside the school is for the success in the school, plus we give the person that is running the school the strength and the support and the resources to do a good job.

And I think the whole debate, for 30 years, is about one person in a classroom. One person in a classroom cannot, by themselves, solve the social economic, cultural and family challenges. It is a ridiculous thing to ask one person to do, and I think the entire debate, as my grandmother used to say, is for (inaudible).

And I just cleaned it up, what I really wanted to say. And I would like the credit, but I didn’t use what you all thought I was going to say for a second. But it’s really – it’s a mess, and to me, that’s what – and you can do it.

Thirty years ago, William Bennett called the Chicago public school system “the worst in the United States.” Thirty years of hard work – Stanford’s Sean Reardon just came out and said, “Chicago public school students are doing better and learning more than 96 percent of the other school systems.”

That means Chicago versus Naperville, Chicago versus Scottsdale, Chicago versus Scarsdale (ph). Ninety-six percent, it can be done, and you’re not going to do it just by focusing on one person in a classroom, for 45 minutes to an hour and 15 minutes, with major massive social, cultural, economic and family challenges. It’s not possible. The debate is – is upside down.

ZAKARIA: Is President Trump’s promise that he was going to do $1 trillion of infrastructure, which he has not delivered on, is that a great missed opportunity? Or are you, at the – at the level of the city and that (ph) of the state, going to be able to do it, because you say the action is where – it’s at the level of the city and the state?

EMANUEL: Well, first of all, I think it’s a missed opportunity, first and foremost, because the country needs it. And we’ve been on a massive infrastructure investment in Chicago. Second, I think it’s a missed opportunity for him, politically.

If you’d come out of the – out of the door with – with infrastructure, rather than the executive order on immigration, the Democrats would’ve been divided. Half the Democrats would’ve said, “OK, we want to figure out how to an infrastructure,” but the other half of Democrats would say, “We won’t touch anything that Trump wants.”

So I think it was a missed policy and a missed politics, on both sides, heads and tails of that coin. I do – look, we’re – at O’Hare-Midway, under massive infrastructure, we have a $10 billon project, a major – Chicago’s O’Hare was just rated the best connected airport in the United States for three consecutive years, second in the – in the world, behind Heathrow. We’re adding three million square feet of new space.

We only grow-up (ph) an alliance terminal in the United States and all eight runways will be done will be done by 2020. In the New York Times just yesterday or two days ago, compared how the CTA, Chicago Transit Authority, is the model that the MTA needs to follow. And I’d like to rub that in to all of you New Yorkers.


ZAKARIA: Can I — can I ask on that specifically, why are your subways doing so much better than — than New York? You have something like a 95 percent on time arrival. I think New York is 57 percent.

EMANUEL: Fifty-seven percent. I’m not competitive but I wanted you to know that.

ZAKARIA: So — but again, as a matter of — explain what did you do that should — that others should do?

EMANUEL: Well that’s a whole — one is I ride it but that’s not the reason, but I do ride it about two to three times a week. Second is we have — when I became mayor, about 55 percent of the riders were bus (ph) 45 train and now it’s the other way around because will pay for time and time has become valuable.

So we’ve made a take the red line south from 95th street down to South Side to the loop. The summer of 2012 we shut the entire thing down, gave everybody free bus rides for four months and we replaced all 10.9 miles of track and every train station was totally rebuilt.

And this December, the last piece of the 95th station, I’ll open. And when that opens, this project from the loop north to Evanston (ph) which is Howard on the border, the entire system will be replaced as well.

So — and 38 percent of the people in Chicago out of the seven lines take that red line. So the whole thing will be redone and now the system — bless you — now the system, 95th to downtown goes at 55 miles an hour, not 15.

And here’s my other thing. You get more time with your family and if you live on the South Side and you can see downtown but you can’t get to it, you can’t expect people to be good employers or employees. And it’s an essential part of making sure people have access to an economy that’s on the move.

ZAKARIA: But is the — is the answer simply — you spent a lot of time. Your — that total expenditures were $8 billion right?

EMANUEL: Yes. I mean — so we had a capital deficit eight and a half — we have eight and half projects done. Here’s the thing, Donald Trump is offering you money at the end of the rainbow that doesn’t exist. Its fairy dust.

We have done things. We had the first seat on ride share (ph) ever that’s been committed to taking five minutes off everybody’s ride. And we put the first fee on the ride share and it goes through mass transit.

Second is we did really well — surprisingly really well getting money out of Washington. So like the red, purple modernization on the north side, 50 percent is out of Washington and 50 percent is out of Chicago.

And we created the first ever transportation tip. We’re now doing the new blue (ph), taking 10 minutes off from O’Hare down to downtown. And we’re the first system and only system that has 4G and now we’re exploring 5G.

And we — or got a new railcar factory coming open in about six months and we’re — we are half the way through replacing every railcar or rebuilding it. So the whole experience is just — it’s going to be new and if you want a 21st century economy, you have to invest in a 21st century transportation system.

And I’ll just say this; you got to do it with money. You can’t — I’m for public-private partnerships but the idea that that’s going to solve the will to invest is stupid and there’s no other way to clean it up. It’s just dumb. And I’m for gas tax. I don’t think it’s — I’m not reckless about it.

I just think you should actually invest — you want to try new ideas about miles driven, I’m (ph) open to it but it takes revenue. And if you’re not going to put revenue in, you’ll have an economy that is driving at 20th century speed or you can have one that drives at 21st century speed.

ZAKARIA: Is Donald Trump right about crime in Chicago—


ZAKARIA: Why did you have that spike up in crime?

EMANUEL: There’s a lot of challenges like other cities that had it. And last year it was down. And it was 116 homicides about 20 percent in shootings. And right now, it’s on track for another 20 – about 18, 19 to 20 percent reduction. And the fact is, there’s a challenge.

We’ve got our arms around, Bill Bratton was just in town the other day and said Chicago’s doing exactly the right thing, which is going to a predictive proactive professional model. And we’re seeing the type of leadership that Eddie Johnson, the superintendent.

Look, Donald Trump is trying to play politics with an issue that is literally life and death and matter issues. We’re professionalizing our police department to represent the whole city, and making progress in fighting crime. And it’d be nice to have a justice department that works with you than try to exaggerate problems. And that’s what they’re trying to do. And I know it’s through politics, and I’m not – as I told the press the other day in Chicago, he’s playing you. I got real work to do; I’m not playing this game.

ZAKARIA: When you look at the Democrats, as in the past, you think that they want to be morally pure rather than to win. What should they do to win now both in this next election and two years from now?

EMANUEL: Well, let me put some context around morally pure, and that is — rather than win – to me, you’re in the political arena, electoral political arena, it is about winning. And you use elections or you run elections to win so you can then do the governing that you need to do.

I don’t like particularly going to election nights where you have a moral victory. I like an electoral victory, that’s the night, that’s what I like to do. And to me, a moral victory speech doesn’t really do much.

I’d rather raise the minimum wage than talk about the need to raise the minimum wage. I’d rather offer and do and get free community college than go to another policy conference to talk about the importance of it, OK?

And so to me, you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do to win and create a framework and a mandate for the support to then go do what you got to do for the policy and the interest you have to do. And I think – I mean, I don’t want to psychoanalyze the Democratic Party. But since I’m here, I’ll psychoanalyze the Democratic Party.

Post historically, Lyndon Johnson, I think the party has had somewhat of a rash to using power. And they’re less willing to be strong about using power to get what they want done.

They both want it to be right and do it in the right way. And if you look – and I tell my son this, but if you – and it’s somewhat as a student to president, the successful presidents are idealistic enough to know why they’re doing what they’re doing and then ruthless enough and tough enough to get it done, but not one or the other.

And sometimes our – there’s a lot of voices in our party that are more about idealistic enough to get it done. We’re not crazy about the other side. But when you look at what Lyndon Johnson did to get the rights through, you look at what Barack Obama did for healthcare or Bill Clinton did on different bills.

Or you look at John Kennedy, Roosevelt, Lincoln; they were idealistic enough to know why they were doing what they were doing, and then tough enough to get it done. And that to me is something that the party should know that it takes both, not one or the other.

ZAKARIA: On that note, Obama said about you once when introducing you somewhere that you had that tragic accident which cut off your middle finger, which rendered you mute. I’m glad to say — I’m —


EMANUEL: I look like I’d (inaudible) —


ZAKARIA: I’m glad to say you found your voice. Rahm Emanuel, thank you.

ZUCKER: I totally agree there are no moral victories you got to win. Thank you Rahm, thank you Fareed.


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