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Emanuel: Congress, Bush Must Seek the 'Doable'

STEVE INSKEEP, Host:

Good morning, sir.

R: Good morning. How are you?

INSKEEP: What is one thing besides an economic stimulus that you can imagine Democrats working with the president on in the coming year?

R: Democrats are adamant - obviously, we see some reforms that are needed. But more importantly, we pushed hard up against his veto for 10 million children's health care. And he said no to that.

INSKEEP: Although that sounds like another issue where you're not going to be likely to be able to...

R: I don't know, Steve. I think that, you know, election years also have - given it's his final year and his desire - election years have an ability to focus the mind on both sides of Pennsylvania Avenue.

INSKEEP: Given the economic conditions, does the president have a chance to extend his tax cuts from 2001?

R: No.

INSKEEP: It will not come up for a vote in the House?

R: Listen. He left us and left this country with $4 trillion in new debt after being handed off a surplus. But we were adamant in negotiations about - on the stimulus, that the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts would not be even discussed as being made permanent. And that's something the next president and the next Congress will decide.

INSKEEP: Do you see any chance that Congress could pass a law on another of the president's signature issues, immigration in 2008?

R: So therefore, I think the right thing to do is take a look at what are the pieces that can work in a more salable - given you also have a presidential and congressional election - I think something that is you take the pieces out that are most salable, that you can get done. But the notion that you're going to put together a comprehensive reform given three attempts have failed, I think, it's a little - there's a lot of headwind to that.

INSKEEP: Approach it like health care then, get little pieces passed?

R: As I said - I think 10 million children is a big deal. But exactly, look at what's doable and attack it.

INSKEEP: Are you disappointed that Democrats spent so much time on Iraq in 2007, since the last State of the Union speech, and didn't get that passed and perhaps didn't get other things passed that you'd like?

R: From day one, we went into that war without a political strategy. Four and a half years into it, we still don't...

INSKEEP: Let me stop you right there, Congressman, I want to ask you one other quick question then I got to move on. And that question has to do with the presidential campaign. As you know, Barack Obama won South Carolina handily over the weekend, over Hillary Clinton.

R: Yes.

INSKEEP: You told your hometown newspaper, when asked about your endorsement in that, that you're hiding under the desk.

R: I built a bigger desk.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

INSKEEP: You're still not endorsing anyone.

R: See we have two very good candidates, and they're both very good friends of mine. And there's no - I'm not one for endorsements in this area. I like both candidates a great deal.

INSKEEP: Do they risk dividing their party, particularly Bill Clinton, the way that he is...

R: You know, everybody, yeah, obviously I'm not only watching this, I'm keenly interested. But first of all, let's take a step back. This is not the type of division that you had between Bobby Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson over Vietnam. This is not the division that you had when President Carter was challenged in the primary by Ted Kennedy. You know, it's been a little bit of a rough patch. I've been clear about what I think about that, but everybody should just take a step back. This is not even this kind of division that existed between Senator McCain and George Bush in 2000. It's been rough. It's been a rough week. But the fact is, the differences are not large in the sense that they not only endanger our chances in November but that somehow this is insurmountable.

INSKEEP: Congressman Emanuel, thanks very much.

R: Thank you.

INSKEEP: Rahm Emanuel, a member of the House Democratic leadership. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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