Even as he was reassuring anxious immigrants and reaffirming Chicago’s status as a sanctuary city, Mayor Rahm Emanuel was counseling President-elect Donald Trump about White House transitions after participating in two of them.
The mayor acknowledged that Monday, disclosing that Trump called him some time over the last two weeks to get Emanuel’s sage advice about the transition of power from one president to another.
“We talked about a range of things that he was interested [in] and a range of things that I wanted to be clear about that I think we all believe in, care about. … I’m also not a shrinking violet,” Emanuel told reporters after groundbreaking ceremonies for a revamped Theater on the Lake in Lincoln Park.
“He’s an investor in this city. … He’s an investor in a city that is also — let me be clear — a sanctuary city, and there’s a reason it’s a sanctuary city. … I’m familiar with being able to speak honestly and frankly with presidents. … I was up-front and direct.”
Emanuel was asked whether he would characterize the conversation with Trump as “cordial.” He was reluctant to answer the question directly on grounds that private phone conversations with U.S. presidents should remain private, “unless they want to talk about it.”
“It could also be, if you do it wrong, the last phone call you have,” Emanuel said.
“But, I think it’s fair for me at least to characterize that he is obviously quite familiar with my background working in two prior administrations in different roles and also on the transitions. … While that was the impetus, we talked about a number of [other] things. I was also clear about what I think is important, what I care about and what I’m willing to speak up about when it comes to our values.”
Trump has had similar post-election conversations with New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti.
But Emanuel is different. He’s uniquely qualified to give Trump advice after serving as a political operative under former President Bill Clinton and as President Barack Obama’s first White House chief of staff.
A source familiar with the call said Trump reached out to Emanuel “in the past two weeks.” During that same period, Emanuel was reassuring anxious immigrants that Chicago “is and always will be” a sanctuary city where undocumented immigrants can access city services and live without fear of police harassment.
Just last week, Emanuel took $1 million of the money earmarked for a widely-ignored property tax rebate and used it to create a Legal Protection Fund to assist immigrants living in “anxiety and uncertainty” and threatened with deportation after Trump’s election.
At the same time, the mayor pointedly refused to say whether it would be wiser for the City Council to drop its sign fight with Trump now that the billionaire developer/former reality TV star is the president-elect. Despite a City Council order, the Chicago Department of Transportation has not yet gotten around to taking down the honorary Trump Plaza sign outside the riverfront hotel and condominium that bears Trumps name.
Trump campaigned on a promise to build a wall on the U.S. border with Mexico, target illegal immigrants and to cut off federal funding to Chicago and other “sanctuary cities where undocumented immigrants can access city services and live without fear of police harassment.
The president-elect has since said he plans to begin by immediately deporting as many as three million illegal immigrants with criminal records, then make a decision about the “terrific people” who make up the rest of the undocumented population.
Emanuel said last month he does not believe Trump will cut off federal funding to Chicago and other “sanctuary cities” because Trump will have “bigger fish to fry” in a White House where you’re dodging nonstop political fire.
“When you’re in the White House, it is incoming. When they look at all of the things they want to get done and all of the battles — whether they’re ones they initiate or ones that will come to ’em — they will make a choice that this is not the battle they want to take on because they’ve got bigger fish to fry. Just mark my words,” the mayor said then.
The mayor boldly predicted that Trump would not pick an immigration fight with the nation’s major cities after an emotional debate on the City Council floor that moved him to tears.
It happened during debate on a resolution reaffirming the welcoming city ordinance that codified Chicago’s standing as a sanctuary city where undocumented immigrants can access city services and live without fear of police harassment.
After the meeting, Emanuel apologized for getting emotional and talked tough about what he believes Trump will and will not do.
What Trump will not do, Emanuel declared, is pick a fight with Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, Boston, Philadelphia and other sanctuary cities. Not even with Republicans in control of both houses of Congress.
“I believe he will not threaten all of those cities. . . . I don’t believe they’ll do it because that will mean every major city in the United States will be targeted, and that is not what an administration will do because that means the voices of Congress and the United States Senate, where there are Republicans with major cities that are sanctuary cities, will have to hurt the economic interests of those cities,” the mayor said then.
On Monday, the City Council’s Human Relations Committee approved that welcoming city resolution after hearing testimony from immigrants who have been living in fear since Trump’s stunning upset over Democrat Hillary Clinton.