ANDREA SEABROOK, host:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Andrea Seabrook. Here's a name you probably hadn't heard of before the midterm elections: Rahm Emanuel. He's an Illinois congressman, a former Clinton aide, and for the last couple of years the man tasked with bringing the Democrats back to power in the House of Representatives. Thanks in large part to Emanuel's fundraising prowess and tireless campaigning, the Democrats now outnumber the GOP in the House. But high profile party infighting about who would become House Majority Leader has some people wondering if the Democrats' biggest hurdle is the Democrats themselves. Joining me now to talk about what lies ahead for his party is Democratic congressman Rahm Emanuel. Good morning.
Representative RAHM EMANUEL (Democrat, Illinois): Good morning. How are you?
SEABROOK: Very good, thank you. As we said, Rahm Emanuel wasn't really a household name before this midterm election, and now you're the golden boy. What do you do now?
Rep. EMANUEL: You know, I'm a middle child of three boys, and you know, my joke is that we all - middle children always are about war or peace, we could do either one. I prefer obscurity, let my older, my two other brothers be more known. So I'll take obscurity off - over golden boy there.
SEABROOK: That's funny, because war or peace, you said. One Chicago Democrat was quoted saying this about you. Rahm don't take no prisoners. He's been described by Nancy Pelosi as cold-blooded, capable and calculating.
Rep. EMANUEL: Yeah. Well, it's all my mother's fault. Listen, the truth is, you know, I do - we do - I do politics and do campaigns but I also - I do it for a reason. I do it because I care about the policies we're going to put in place, like everything from a minimum wage increase to what we're going to do to make college education more affordable, especially in an era in which, you know, you earn what you learn. And so it is important to me what we do on the policy level, and I'm as driven about that as I am about the campaigns we run so we can be in majority.
SEABROOK: Every since the Democrats won this past election, sort of swept the House, took over the Senate, there's been a lot of press about, oh, there they are all over again messing things up for themselves, completely disorganized - the old Will Rogers quote, I don't belong to an organized political party, I'm a Democrat. How much of this is true and how much of it is just Democrats' fights being in the open?
Rep. EMANUEL: Look, I understand this was the only election that was going on, so you guys covered it right after the election, and it wasn't necessary or a process we wanted. On the other hand, the stuff that we promoted in the campaign, a robust lobbying and ethics reform package, making sure that the schedule has it so we're going to have a vote of the minimum wage increase; we've already met in Ways and Means on our direct negotiation for lower prescription drug prices and what that legislation's going to look at. So there's a lot of things going on so we can hit the ground running on our agenda to get this country moving in a new direction that we pledged we were going to do - from pay as you go rules on the budget so you don't have new spending without revenue to do it, to an increase in the minimum wage, to our direct negotiations for lower prescription drug prices, to cutting the interest in half for college loans, to making sure that we have an energy policy that begins with the word independence and redirect some of the subsidies to big oil companies to alternative energy. All those meetings are going on right now. And I have already participated in probably 10 meetings on those very issues alone.
SEABROOK: But doesn't it matter how the Democrats hang together in these sort of seemingly political leadership elections? Doesn't it matter for getting just some of those policy points passed?
Rep. EMANUEL: I will guarantee you we will - yes. I will guarantee you that we have 100 percent performance as it relates six in '06 agenda, getting this country moving in a new direction and the things that we just talked about. And we will have those things on the floor, ready to vote. And the first set of votes will be around a robust lobbying and ethics package. So we will have that and we're going to have that agenda because we made a pledge. And if we don't, we'll get a drubbing and we know that. We made a pledge and the most important thing is to follow through. Do those leadership elections count? Yes. Do they count as much as you guys are saying? No. And they're like class elections. We're going to get moving and we will have a unified front on making sure that our new direction agenda is seen through.
SEABROOK: Democratic congressman Rahm Emanuel in the new Congress, the 110th, which begins in January, He'll head the Democratic caucus in the House. Thank you very much.
Rep. EMANUEL: Thank you, Andrea.
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