Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell says he’d love to replace Rahm Emanuel as Barack Obama’s next chief of staff, while allowing that he may be the last person the president would pick for the job.
“If I were president, I am not sure that I would offer Ed Rendell the job of chief of staff,” Rendell said during an interview yesterday on Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital with Al Hunt,” airing this weekend.
“I am a free spirit. I tell the truth, and I like to mix it up. And that is not the Obama administration’s modus operandi, to say the least,” Rendell said hours after Obama announced his choice of senior adviser Pete Rouse to serve as interim chief of staff.
While Rendell, 66, said it’s “the only job” he’d be interested in, there are reasons the governor might not be the best fit for White House chief of staff. In the same interview, Rendell criticized Obama and his administration for being “out-spun” by Republicans on the stimulus and health care, and said congressional Democrats were “too scared” to seize the advantage in the fight over tax cuts by scheduling a vote before the midterm elections.
Democrats are fighting to preserve their majorities in the House and Senate in the Nov. 2 elections. Rendell said Democrats are starting to turn things around in the final push.
“The tide is starting” to turn, Rendell said. “Democrats are finally getting a little backbone, and they are talking about the good things we have done and the difficulties ahead for the country if Republicans control either one of the chambers.”
Republican strategist Vin Weber, a former congressman from Minnesota, agreed that Democrats will close the gap in the final weeks before the election, while predicting that Republicans will score “big wins” in governorships, capture the House, and come close to winning the Senate.
“We have seen such a huge gap between Republican enthusiasm and Democratic enthusiasm, and I have to believe, as you get closer to the election, the Democrats get a little bit more excited,” Weber, 58, said in a separate “Political Capital” interview. “But the major dynamics of this election I think are in place and I think it means a Republican House.”
Weber said it wouldn’t be a vote of confidence for Republicans and instead would be “thumbs down on Obama, thumbs down on the liberal agenda, not so much personally on the president.”
Republicans need a net gain of 10 seats to take control of the Senate, and 39 seats to win a House majority.
With some eyes already turning to the race for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012, Weber, an ally of Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, said former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin will emerge from this cycle as the frontrunner, should she decide to run.
“I still don’t think she is going to run, but she is surely, at the end of this cycle, going to be in a position to enter the race as the frontrunner,” he said.
Democrats are in trouble because they let Republicans define their message during the early days of the Obama presidency, Rendell said.
“We didn’t seize the initiative,” Rendell said. “We sat back. We let them sort of define the stimulus in the minds” of Americans. “We let them define health care,” he said.
Congressional Democrats missed an opportunity to gain a foothold in the tax fight by failing to hold a vote on expiring Bush-era cuts before the election.
“We were too scared,” Rendell said.
Congress left town this week without voting on a series of tax cuts that expire at the end of the year. Dozens of Democrats who face the prospect of defeat in November balked at voting on a plan to extend the bulk of the tax cuts while rescinding those for the top 2 percent of wage earners.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democrats argued that a vote would give those lawmakers their best chance to frame the fight before the election. In the end, wavering Democrats won out, and both chambers left town without a vote.
“Our guys were too afraid of the rhetoric,” Rendell said. “They assume that people will say, ‘Oh, you raised taxes.’”
Republicans also captured the message about Obama’s $814 billion economic-stimulus plan by defining the measure before Democrats could, Rendell said. They seized on parts of the plan and “blew it up way out of proportion,” he said.
“We didn’t answer back,” Rendell continued. “We have been out-spun by a bunch of people who have no regard for the truth.”
The governor, who is completing the final year of his second term, said Democrats should be talking about all the things they’ve done to create jobs during the last two years, including the stimulus.
Rendell said Democrats should talk about job-creation plans beyond the stimulus, such as a recently passed small business bill and the $50 billion Obama has proposed to rebuild roads, airports and railways.
“We have the best plans to create jobs as we go ahead, and I think our candidates should be talking about that,” he said. Even the stimulus helped stem job losses, Rendell said.
“It certainly wasn’t perfect, but I think it has created jobs and it has certainly helped retain jobs,” he said.
Whatever the outcome in November, the big fight next year may come over balancing the budget.
The Republicans’ plan to cut 21 percent from government programs, excluding defense and homeland security, “politically is not quite that easy,” Weber said. And spending cuts alone aren’t enough to do the job, he said.
“The real solution to the long-term problem, as you well know, comes down to three things, maybe four: Medicare, Social Security, taxes, maybe defense,” he said.
“What we ought to be doing is restraining the growth of those entitlement programs, both so that we can do what we need to in terms of the budget and so that we don’t have to completely decimate some of the other programs government spends money on, like biomedical research,” he said.