- Fundraiser for Bill Clinton's campaign
- Aid to President Clinton
- Served on the Board of Directors for Freddie Mac
- Former congressman for the 5th congressional district of Illinois
- Was President Barack Obama's Chief of Staff from January 2009 to October 1, 2010
- Was elected mayor of Chicago in 2011
Rahm Emanuel was born on November 29, 1959 in Chicago, Illinois. His father, Benjamin M. Emanuel, is a native of Israel who served as a member of the Irgun, a Jewish defense organization which operated during the British Mandate of Palestine. His mother, Martha Smulevitz, was a civil rights activist and the daughter of a union organizer.
Rahm Emanuel is a graduate of the Evanston School of Ballet. In 1981 he graduated also from Sarah Lawrence College in New York. Four years later he earned a master’s degree in Speech and Communication from Northwestern University.
During the Persian Gulf War in 1991, Emanuel volunteered with the Israeli Defense Forces as a maintenance worker for military vehicles.
Emanuel’s interest in politics began when, as a college undergraduate, he worked on the congressional campaign of Chicago Democrat David Robinson. He proceeded thereafter to work as a fundraiser for a number of successful Illinois candidates before being drafted by the presidential campaign of Arkansas governor Bill Clinton in 1991.
Emanuel proved to be a shrewd tactician for Clinton, urging the latter, during the 1992 New Hampshire primary race, to focus more on fundraising efforts than on campaigning. The money Clinton collected ultimately enabled him to run an effective ad campaign aimed at countering the emerging controversies about the candidate’s past adulterous relationships and his draft-dodging activities during the Vietnam War.
Emanuel’s aptitude for fundraising continued to help the Clinton campaign throughout the primaries and into the general election. Of notable importance was Emanuel’s ability to connect with Jewish donors, who contributed heavily to Clinton’s then-unprecedented $72 million war chest. According to political consultant Steve Rabinowitz, “[Emanuel] schmoozed many, many millions all over the country, including money from traditional Democratic Party givers, who are disproportionately Jewish, and new Democratic givers.”
On November 4, 1992 — the night after Clinton had been elected President — Emanuel and other campaign aids convened for a celebratory dinner. At one point in the evening, the discussion turned to the topic of certain individuals who, in the estimation of Emanuel and his cohorts, had somehow betrayed the Clinton cause. One such person was Nathan Landow, a fundraiser who had backed the candidacy of Clinton’s Democrat rival Paul Tsongas. Another was William Donald Schaefer, the Democrat governor of Maryland who had endorsed Republican incumbent George H.W. Bush. In a fit of anger, Emanuel, wielding a steak knife, stood up amidst his dinner companions and proceeded to stab the table repeatedly, screaming: “Nat Landow! Dead!… Bill Schaefer! Dead!…”
On another occasion, the tempestuous Emanuel mailed a 30-inch decomposing fish to a pollster who had annoyed him.
During Clinton’s first five years in the White House, Emanuel continued to serve as an aid to the President. Perhaps his most high-profile assignment was as choreographer of the 1993 Rose Garden ceremony following the Oslo Accord, an event that featured the famous handshake between Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat.
Shortly after Clinton’s electoral victory in 1992, Emanuel began pushing the new President to exploit the issue of immigration for his political advantage. Heeding Emanuel’s advice, in September 1994 Clinton met with Daniel Solis, president of the Chicago-based United Neighborhood Organization (UNO), a Hispanic advocacy group. Solis told Clinton that if he could somehow swiftly naturalize the ever-growing number of non-citizen immigrants residing in the U.S., he would have a “great opportunity” to increase the pool of potential voters who might support his re-election bid in 1996. Clinton instructed Solis to stay in contact with Emanuel on this matter; Solis and Emanuel soon coordinated a scheme — which was titled “Citizenship USA” and was headquartered in Vice President Al Gore’s office — to fast-track the naturalization process for both legal and illegal immigrants before the 1996 election. According to one INS security official:
“The goal was to speed up the process and turn as many legal residents and illegals into Clinton voters as possible…. Rahm was doing it under the guise of Al Gore’s Reinventing Government program. He [Emanuel] was definitely the point man and was past his neck in the scandal at INS…. He got every rule changed in the hiring of adjudicators so they could naturalize more Mexican nationals to vote for Bill Clinton, not to mention getting the rules changed to naturalize anyone [regardless of their immigration status or criminal history]…. They had immigration ceremonies at stadiums with DNC [Democratic National Committee] staff registering them as voters right there.”
At one Chicago ceremony held inside the Soldier Field football stadium, approximately 11,000 new citizens were sworn in en masse.
A former INS district director, William Carroll, stated that in March 1996 he and his colleagues had been given “marching orders” to naturalize as many new citizens as possible in advance of the November election, even in the absence of criminal and national security background checks of the applicants. INS deportation officer Tom Conklin concurred that he and other agents had been pressured to approve the citizenship applications of immigrants “with two or three arrests for crimes like burglary.”
Justice Department Inspector General Glenn Fine subsequently conducted an investigation of Emanuel’s role in the citizenship scheme. Fine concluded that “the INS had compromised the integrity of naturalization adjudications as a result of its efforts to process applicants more quickly and meet a self-imposed goal of completing more than a million cases by the end of fiscal year 1996.” According to Fine, the Clinton administration had followed “inadequate procedures for checking criminal histories and fingerprints.” Fine added that Emanuel had refused his request for an interview.
In 1998 Emanuel left his advisory position at the White House to work as an investment banker at the firm of Wasserstein Perella, where he earned $16.2 million during a two-and-a-half-year stint.
In 2000 Emanuel was again called upon by Bill Clinton, this time to serve on the board of directors for the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation (Freddie Mac). During his tenure on the board, Freddie Mac was plagued by such major scandals as accounting fraud and illegal campaign contributions to congressional candidates. Emanuel resigned from the board in 2001.
In 2002 Emanuel ran for public office and was elected as the Democrat Representative for Illinois’ 5th congressional district, easily defeating Republican opponent Mark Augusti.
In January 2005 Emanuel was named Chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) for the 2006 election season. Such was his success in engineering important victories for the Democratic Party in that year’s mid-term elections, that Illinois Republican Representative Ray LaHood said of Emanuel: “He legitimately can be called the golden boy of the Democratic Party today. He recruited the right candidates, found the money and funded them, and provided issues for them.”
Emanuel’s strategy in 2006 was to focus not only on fundraising, but also on an aggressive propaganda campaign deriding Republicans for such transgressions as their mismanagement of the Iraq War, their allegedly inadequate response to Hurricane Katrina, and their personal scandals involving figures like Mark Foley, Tom DeLay, and Jack Abramoff. Most notably, Emanuel recruited numerous moderate and conservative Democrat candidates — a number of whom were military veterans — to run for election in Southern and Midwestern districts where doctrinaire leftists would have stood little chance of winning.
As a result of the foregoing strategies, Democrats in 2006 gained 30 congressional seats, there by seizing control of the House of Representatives and setting the stage for Nancy Pelosi to become Speaker of the House.
Emanuel was subsequently elected Chairman of the Democratic Caucus, making him the fourth highest ranking member of the Democratic leadership in the House.
Emanuel went on to become a close advisor to Senator Barack Obama during the latter’s run for the White House in 2008. On November 6, 2008, President-elect Obama named Emanuel to serve as his White House Chief of Staff.
Shortly before Obama’s November 4, 2008 election victory, Emanuel had conversations with Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich’s Chief of Staff John Harris about who would fill Obama’s vacant Senate seat if Obama were to win the presidency. According to one source, Emanuel gave Harris a list of candidates who would be “acceptable” to Obama. The names on the list included Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett, Illinois Veterans Affairs director Tammy Duckworth, state Comptroller Dan Hynes, and U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky of Illinois—all Democrats. Sometime shortly after the election, Emanuel telephoned John Harris and asked him to add the name of Democratic Attorney General Lisa Madigan to the approved list.
In December 2008 it was revealed that Blagojevich, who was authorized by Illinois law to name a successor to Obama, had been secretly taped telling political confidantes that he was aiming to sell the Senate seat in exchange for campaign cash, a lucrative job, an ambassadorship, or a Cabinet post. After these charges against Blagojevich became public, Emanuel refused to respond to reporters’ questions about any involvement he may have had with the governor’s office over the Senate pick.
In December 2008 it was reported that Emanuel, cognizant of the fact that the economic recession in which America was mired presented an opportunity for the Democratic Party to enact sweeping legislation under the guise of an economic recovery plan, had said the following in a candid moment: “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste — and what I mean by that is it’s an opportunity to do things that you think you could not do before.”On January 2, 2009, Emanuel resigned from the House of Representatives and began his job as White House chief of staff 18 days later.In February 2009, it was learned that Emanuel had lived rent-free for years in the Capitol Hill townhouse of Connecticut Representative Rosa DeLauro — and that he had failed to make mention of that fact on any of his financial-disclosure forms, as congressional ethics rules require for such arrangements (which are classified by the IRS as gifts that are subject to taxes).
On October 2, 2010, Emanuel announced that he was stepping down from his post as White House chief of staff. He intended to run for the office of Chicago mayor, where Democrat incumbent Richard Daley was slated to retire after 22 years. By January 2011, Emanuel had raised $11.8 million for his campaign, far more than the $500,000 raised by his nearest Democrat rival, Carol Moseley Braun. A Chicago Tribune poll published in mid-January showed Emanuel leading the race by a 44-to-21 percent margin over Braun. But on January 24, 2011, an Illinois state appeals court ruled that Emanuel did not qualify for the ballot because he had not started residing in Chicago at least one year prior to the election. Emanuel said he would appeal the ruling to the state Supreme Court. “I do believe the people of Chicago deserve the right to choose who they want as the next mayor,” he stated.
Emanuel was elected mayor of Chicago on February 22, 2011.
In the aftermath of a December 2012 Newtown, Connecticut incident where a deranged gunman murdered 26 people (including 20 children), Emanuel derided National Rifle Association executive vice president Wayne LaPierre’s proposal that an armed police officer should be stationed in every school to protect students. Said Emanuel: “It’s outrageous and unsettling that the NRA would choose to address gun violence not by taking assault weapons off our streets, but by adding more guns to our schools…. That is not the right answer for our society, our schools and most importantly our children.” Notably, at that time the Chicago Public Schools system, whose seven board members and CEO were all appointed by Mayor Emanuel himself, were already spending $41 million per year on police and security officers in the schools. Moreover, Emanuel’s children had been guarded for several years by at least one armed police officer at the private school they attended.
In November 2016, Emanuel objected strongly when president-elect Donald Trump told 60 Minutes that he planned to follow through on his campaign promises to deport illegal aliens with criminal records and to cut off all federal funding to sanctuary cities. Said Emanuel: “To all those [illegals] who are, after Tuesday’s election, very nervous and filled with anxiety … you are safe in Chicago, you are secure in Chicago and you are supported in Chicago…. Chicago has in the past been a sanctuary city. It always will be a sanctuary city.”
On August 20, 2021, it was announced that President Joe Biden was nominating Emanuel to serve as U.S. Ambassador to Japan.