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Obama Failed to Appoint Railroad Chief

Government spending boosters using the Philadelphia train derailment tragedy to demand more money for Amtrak might want to ask the White House why President Obama has failed for 127 days to even nominate an administrator for the Federal Railroad Administration, instead leaving in charge as “acting” chief a 37-year-old Obama loyalist who reportedly has little substantial railroad experience.

Running the agency is Sarah Feinberg, who was a close aide to Rahm Emanuel when he was White House chief of staff and who was married to former top Obama advisor Dan Pfeiffer, though they have separated, according to a report.

Whatever her credentials and abilities – Feinberg is respected in Washington and, if she can survive working for Rahm, must have some degree of talent and tenacity – her role as “acting” chief limits her ability to get things done, according to Politico:

President Barack Obama has failed to nominate a leader for the Federal Railroad Administration for 127 days and counting, a vacancy that experts say could hamper the federal response to the accident that killed eight people and injured more than 200 others.

“Career employees who have been here before this administrator and will be here after this administrator know that an acting administrator has less authority,” said Peter Goelz, a former managing director of the National Transportation Safety Board, which has issued the FRA a flurry of recommended safeguards over the years that the agency has yet to implement. He said the lack of a permanent leader can only be a “detriment.”

The agency’s acting chief, Sarah Feinberg, is a former Facebook executive and ex-aide to Rahm Emanuel who has close ties to the White House and much popularity on the Hill — but little substantial railroad experience. And as only an interim boss, she faces obstacles in even attempting to make the changes that FRA critics want to see at the agency, which some lawmakers have lambasted as too slow to regulate and too cozy with the railroads it oversees.

The agency also hasn’t had a deputy administrator since September.

The White House praises Feinberg’s performance, which has included an aggressive outreach to Congress that won over some of the agency’s harshest critics. This week, she briefed more than a half-dozen lawmakers about the Amtrak crash and spent two days near the scene in Philadelphia, where sources say she headed barely 15 minutes after Tuesday night’s accident.

Still, the White House is showing no signs it plans to fill the slot anytime soon, let alone put her in it. And with lawmakers already pointing fingers in the wake of the crash, and reform proposals already being floated, experts said the FRA needs a permanent head who has the credibility that comes with Senate confirmation and is less immune to the political forces that will shape the response to the safety crisis.

If Feinberg is being road tested for the job, and Obama things she’s right for it, it’s time to install her. Or, perhaps better, put someone in the position who knows something about trains.

Michelle: Race Behind Portrayal in New Book

Michelle Obama today said a new book alleging that she influenced President Obama’s choices on policy and staff was part of a long running effort to portray her as an “angry black woman.”

The book, “The Obamas” by New York Times reporter Jodi Kantor, reports that Michelle was critical of President Obama’s senior White House aides, regarding them as insular and insufficiently devoted to the president’s vision of “transformative” change. Michelle was in particular concerned about former Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and believed the president needed a new team.

In an interview with CBS This Morning, Michelle said she had “never had a cross word” with Rahm but didn’t deny that she had found his leadership problematic and acknowledged that she in general made her views on matters clear to the president.

But the first lady also said the book’s author was trying to titillate by amping up the drama and was associating her with an unflattering racial stereotype.

I guess it’s more interesting to imagine this conflicted situation here and a strong woman and a – you know, but that’s been an image that people have tried to paint of me since the day Barack announced, that I’m some angry black woman.

Michelle was magnanimous toward former Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, who cursed the first lady during a staff meeting, calling him a good friend and saying, “we could go day to day and find the things people wish the didn’t say to each other.”

Here’s the interview if you want to take a look-see.

President Rahm Emanuel

It could happen.

Several years ago, when Rahm Emanuel was still in Congress, I covered as a reporter a hearing of the House Ways and Means Committee, on which he sat.

The witness was droning on about some matter I forget, while the seats on the rostrum where the committee members sat were about half filled with sober and maybe bored looking lawmakers. Some were preparing their own questions, others were, with interest levels ranging from little to intense, listening to the testimony.

At some point, Rahm suddenly materialized from behind the rostrum and plopped down into his seat.

Rahm Emanuel in the East Room
Photo by Keith Koffler

It was as if a seven year old with boundless energy had suddenly sprung into the room and, surveying the cavernous chamber, wondered exactly how he would be entertained today.

After acclimating himself, he began looking at the witness intently, as if he fully meant to give him his thorough attention straight through the rest of the testimony.

After about 90 seconds of this, he leaned back in his chair and surveyed the room again. Then he picked up his copy of the testimony, and leafed through it for perhaps a minute. Then he put the pamphlet down, and listened to the witness for a few more moments.

Then he surveyed the room again, got up, and left.

Approximately 30 minutes later, he returned and repeated pretty much the same performance.

Rahm is not a patient man. I used to run into him sometimes when I covered the Clinton White House. To run into him is to nearly be run over.

He ain’t going to grow old – Richard Daley (Sr. and Jr.) style, being mayor of Chicago.

He’s made money, he’s served at senior levels in Congress, he’s had a significant hand in governing from the White House, and in a few years he will have run a city. He might eventually run for governor, but after being mayor of Chicago the governorship of Illinois would probably be an anti-climax.

He’s a man of unique political talent, as John Harris, who has covered and observed him for years, points out in this Politico piece. And he’s managed to comport himself with dignity during the campaign, though that veneer should crack wide open pretty soon.

The only thing left for Rahm to do is run for president. I say 2016.

Mayor Rahm

Rahm Emanuel will become the next mayor of Chicago, his chief opponent having conceded amid projections Rahm will receive more than 50 percent of the vote in a multicandidate contest, avoiding a runoff.

Rahm, in his victory statement, said he wants “to be mayor of all Chicagoans, including you assholes who didn’t vote for me.”

Obama and His Very own Fat Cat Bankers

President Obama is well known for disparaging big wheel bankers, labeling them “fat cats” and describing their pay as “obscene.” But what is less well known is the extent to which he has tolerated them as his most trusted advisers.

The appointment last month of William Daley to be chief of staff is only the most obvious example of this inconsistency. OK, hypocrisy. Sorry, inconsistency.

Daley, as has been (somewhat) widely reported, deep pocketed more that $15 million in bonuses, salary and pensions last year for what must have been some outstanding work for JP Morgan.

But Daley’s predecessor in the job, Rahm Emanuel, also made “obscene” sums as a banker, though it took him a bit longer than Daley. Between the time he resigned in 1998 as a senior adviser to President Clinton and his election to Congress in 2002, Emanuel made $16.2 million as an investment banker in Chicago.

Obama and William Daley
Obama applauds Daley for making $15 million in one year. Photo by Keith Koffler

OMB Director Jack Lew also tried his hand at banking, making about $2 million working for two years at Citigroup, including $1.1 million in compensation for his work in 2007 and a nearly $1 million bonus covering his duties in 2008. He took the bonus just before going to work at the Obama State Department, where he hung out until becoming OMB director.

One of Lew’s jobs at the bank was to head up a Citigroup hedge fund unit that profited from the financial crisis by investing in a firm that bet on the housing market to collapse. Very helpful.

Lew’s predecessor, Peter Orszag, joined Citgroup as Vice Chairman of Global Banking after leaving OMB last summer.

And then there’s National Security Adviser Tom Donilon, who has profited handsomely by helping out fat cat bankers.

He lobbied from 1999-2005 for Fannie Mae, trying to keep regulators at bay while Fannie Mae self-destructed amid accounting irregularities and loans to people who couldn’t afford them.

After leaving Fannie Mae, he went on to carry water for some top investment bankers. According to a Wall Street Journal article on some of the Obamaites 2008 earnings:

Donilon earned $3.9 million as a partner at the law firm of O’Melveny & Myers LLP, where his clients include Citigroup, Inc., Goldman, Sachs & Co., and Obama fundraiser and heiress Penny Pritzker.

Ironically, the man perhaps most often cited as one of Obama’s banker, Treasury Secretary Time Geithner – often said to have worked for Goldman Sachs – has in fact never been a banker, and has spent a lifetime in public service.

Rahm is Back on the Ballot

The Illinois Supreme Court emphatically placed Rahm Emanuel back in the race for Chicago mayor, nearly ensuring that the former White House chief of staff will soon rule the city.

Emanuel has an overwhelming lead in both money and in the polls, and now appears unstoppable.

The unanimous decision reversed a 2-1 appellate court ruling that said Rahm couldn’t run because he hadn’t met the residency requirement by physically living in the city for a full year.

But the higher court ruled that there is precedent for the claim that Rahm was qualified to run because it was clear his residency in Washington was temporary and that he always intended to return to the city.

Actually, I think Chicagoans should be able to elect Hosni Mubarak their mayor if they so choose. But at the very least, on the legal matter, the guy never sold his house in Chicago and went to Washington on what was clearly a temporary assignment: White House chiefs of staff usually burn out after about two years.

Rahm will run the city with an iron fist and make the Daleys look like frightened pussycats. And then, having been so close to the top job, having practically been running the country anyway as chief of staff he will . . .

You guessed it. I mean, give me one reason why he wouldn’t run. I say we’re looking at Rahm for President 2016.

Illinois Supreme Court to Decide Rahm’s Case

The Illinois Supreme Court today said it will decide whether Rahm Emanuel meets the residency requirement to run for Chicago mayor, staying a decision by an appellate court that threw him out of the race and ordering his name to remain on the ballot in the meantime.

“Several justices received dead fishes in the mail from someone named ‘Ron,'” said Supreme Court spokeswoman Lee Kefaucett. “Each fish had an iPod in its mouth repeating the phrase ‘take the case,’ ‘take the case.'”

Kefaucett said the fish had nothing to do with the court’s decision.

Obama Puts the Screws on the Illinois Supreme Court

Well, the Illinois Supreme Court just got a presidential dose of political pressure.

Every time the White House – any White House – doesn’t want to comment on some controversial legal matter, we in the press corps are treated to sanctimonious demurrals stating that the president couldn’t possibly be induced to interfere with a matter before the courts.

But Chicago politics is a different story.

Today Obama – through the courtesy of his Chicagoland White House consigliere, Valerie Jarrett, weighed right in on an important matter that is supposed to be decided by a supposedly independent judiciary.

From POLITICO:

President Barack Obama wants former chief of staff Rahm Emanuel to stay on the Chicago mayoral ballot, a top presidential confidante said Tuesday.

“I think that [Obama] believes that [Emanuel] is eligible, and that he believes that Rahm will pursue his appeal in the courts,” said Valerie Jarrett, a senior adviser to Obama and fellow Chicagoan, on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”

If you are on the Illinois Supreme Court and you don’t want to be audited this year, please remember, Rahm is a Chicago resident. That’s what you think. Got it? Good.

Court: Rahm Can’t Run

An Appeals Court has overruled and earlier decision allowing Rahm Emanuel to run for mayor of Chicago, voting by a 2-1 margin that he fails to meet the residency requirement. For now, it appears, he’s off the ballot, but he can appeal to the State Supreme Court. The election takes place next month. In a… Continue Reading

Rahm Announces Chicago Mayoral Run

He makes it official. Also, here’s the latest on the ever-classy Rahm, from a new book by Republican Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, as described in POLITICO. Seems the president and his foul-mouthed chief of staff had just arrived to, you know, help out with the oil spill, but had politics instead of people on their… Continue Reading

Rahm Descends Into Retail Politics

Rahm started running for mayor of Chicago Monday, and the results were mixed. Seems he got heckled plenty as he began his “listening tour,” which will be followed if he gets into office by his “expletive tour” as he meets his new employees. Just the site of Rahm suddenly kissing ass is quite shocking. One… Continue Reading