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Rahm Emanuel warns House Democrats: Don’t ‘focus immediately on Trump’

Mayor Rahm Emanuel appears on "The Axe Files" with David Axelrod Saturday on CNN. | Screen-grab of CNN

Mayor Rahm Emanuel interviewed by David Axelrod for CNN's "The Axe Files," at Manny's Deli. | Screen-grab of CNN livestream

WASHINGTON – Democrats should not “focus immediately on Trump” when they take control of the House, Mayor Rahm Emanuel said in an interview televised on Saturday, where he also threw cold water on the presidential prospects of Beto O’Rourke, a new Democratic darling despite losing his Texas Senate race.

In a discussion on 2020 presidential politics on CNN’s “The Axe Files,” Emanuel said Democrats should look to Washington outsiders with a track record — a slam at O’Rourke, who is wildly popular within some segments of the party.

Emanuel also said that Speaker-designate Nancy Pelosi should consider term limits on committee chairmen to make room for rank-and-file members to advance — a very controversial suggestion, but one that could lock in the votes she needs to reclaim the speakership on Jan. 3.

The mayor, stepping down next year, made his comments in an interview with close friend David Axelrod, a Democratic strategist who advised former President Barack Obama. Axelrod is the founder of the University of Chicago Institute of Politics who is a CNN commentator and “Axe Files” host.

Emanuel was Obama’s first chief of staff, a veteran of the Bill Clinton White House and a House member from a North Side Chicago district.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel appears on "The Axe Files" with David Axelrod Saturday on CNN. | Screen-grab of CNN

Mayor Rahm Emanuel appears on “The Axe Files” with David Axelrod Saturday on CNN. | Screen-grab of CNN livestream

In 2006, as the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, Emanuel led the drive for the Democrats to win the House, with Pelosi becoming the first female speaker. Democrats won 40 seats and the House in November, with Pelosi poised to reclaim the speakership.

Emanuel and Axelrod taped the interview on Tuesday, talking in City Hall and Manny’s Deli, 1141 S. Jefferson St.

On Trump’s long term impact: “Eight years in control of the White House and the apparatus of government, would actually — not just atrophy, but actually do serious damages — damage to the capacity of Americans to meet challenges at home and abroad; January makes it the two-year mark. It’s unbelievably damaging. Eight years of this would be something I’m not sure how long it would take for America to recoup, or recover from.”

On Pelosi dealing with House Democrats who ran in swing districts promising not to vote for her to be speaker: “The challenge she has to figure out, and this is where her legislative skills is, if you made a pledge, you don’t want people to have the first vote you cast, is to go back on that pledge, and there has got to be a tactical way that she” can do that.

On concessions for Pelosi to make: “There has got to be more openness and more transparency,” and to provide for some upward mobility, “maybe there should be term limits for committee chairman.”

Advice for House Democrats: “Don’t focus immediately on Trump. …He has brought the swamp to Washington and flooded the plains, and I think Mueller will deal with Trump.”

What Democrats should be looking for in 2020: “I am trying to look for history to draw lessons. Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, Barack Obama — all younger than age 50, all from outside of Washington. …My general rule is that has worked for us.

“The last thing I think we need is a nominee who owns Washington. …It’s not worked for us historically, so my attitude is, who brings a fresh face, an energy that contrasts us with Donald Trump?”

On O’Rourke, who lost his Senate bid, and Pelosi, who led the Democratic House takeover and now is dealing with rebels complaining about her long tenure: “What party takes a person who led the party to the greatest wins in the House since Watergate and says, ‘We are going to cut your knees off,’ and then says we want to nominate somebody who didn’t win?”

The best politician Emanuel has known: “Bill Clinton.”

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