Rahm Emanuel didn't kill 'public option,' says Kathleen Sebelius

Rahm Emanuel's White House chief of staff role wasn't in crafting policy, but in managing strategy, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius told reporters Thursday.

Michael Bonfigli/Special to The Christian Science Monitor
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius told reporters Rahm Emanuel wasn't responsible for crafting policy, including health care, but managed strategy in the White House.

With Rahm Emanuel, President Obama’s chief of staff, expected to announce his resignation on Friday so he can run for mayor of Chicago, major government officials are speaking out about his role during the first two years of the Obama administration.

The latest analysis came Thursday morning when Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius was the guest at a Monitor-sponsored breakfast for reporters. Asked about Mr. Emanuel’s role in getting health-care reform through Congress, Secretary Sebelius described Emanuel as not “deeply involved in the policy decisions. The president really did that.”

Instead, Sebelius said, Emanuel’s role was “more in just the tactical – how do we get from here to there? What is the pathway? What’s the vote look like? Who do we need? Who don’t we have? And he was very hands-on in every step of that process. And it was an interesting and somewhat tortuous process because it changed a number of times.”

Asked by Chicago Sun Times Washington Bureau Chief Lynn Sweet whether Emanuel deserved the blame for killing the so-called public option – a government sponsored insurance plan – Sebelius responded “No. No. No. No.”

The chief of staff’s role in the fate of the public option came center stage as a result of an interview he gave to the Wall Street Journal during the battle over health-care legislation, saying the Obama administration had a goal of keeping “private insurers honest,” but that the path to that goal was “negotiable.”

Much of what Sebelius said about Emanuel’s operating style echoed comments made about the chief of staff at Wednesday's Monitor breakfast by Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

“Rahm is never boring. He is active, he is engaged. He’s got ideas about everything and is really involved in everything as a chief of staff should be, in terms of a wide range of topics,” Sebelius said.

“Rahm is 24/7 all the time. If he has an idea it should have been done yesterday or the day before. So it is a pretty – to call it fast-paced is an underestimate.”

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