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Rahm Emanuel defends Daley’s tenure as Obama’s chief of staff

Mayor Rahm Emanuel. | File photo. Jean Lachat~Sun-Times

Mayor Rahm Emanuel. | File photo. Jean Lachat~Sun-Times

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Updated: February 12, 2012 8:11AM

Bill Daley can walk out of the “toughest job in America” with his “head held high” — even if the Beltway pundits don’t see it that way, Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Tuesday.

One day after a demoted Daley cut short his tenure as White House chief of staff, Emanuel defended his longtime friend amid the perception that Daley was a bad fit from the outset who was chewed up and spit out by the insular Washington establishment.

“The chief of staff job [is the] toughest job in America. … The most important thing you can do is be loyal to the president and have his back. … Bill can walk out of the White House with his head held high for a job well done,” Emanuel said at an unrelated news conference.

Emanuel noted that the average life span of the modern-day White House chief of staff is 18 months.

“It is a grinding job. It’s exciting. But basically every problem before it gets to the Oval Office sits at that desk. … It’s all incoming — constantly. … I lasted past the 18 months. Bill didn’t. … I don’t think it’s a judgment on Bill [that he didn’t last]. Bill did a good job for the president because he served him loyally and had his back. That is the ultimate test,” he said.

Emanuel has a unique perspective on the issue. He preceded Daley as President Barack Obama’s chief of staff and succeeded Daley’s brother, Richard M. Daley, as mayor of Chicago.

That and Emanuel’s longstanding relationship with the Daley family makes the mayor a somewhat biased observer, but also an informed one. He knows better than most what a cutthroat environment Washington can be.

On Tuesday, the mayor bristled when asked whether the ideal White House chief of staff is the Washington insider that Bill Daley wasn’t. That’s even though Daley served as former President Bill Clinton’s Commerce Secretary, chaired Al Gore’s failed 2000 presidential campaign and marshaled the infamous Florida recount for Gore.

“I appreciate the views of those in Washington about how important Washington experience is about Washington. [But] it’s a little self-importance in my view,” Emanuel said.

“What you gotta know is loyalty, not a strong suit in Washington. …You gotta know how to have a president’s back. Not a strong suit from Washington. What you also gotta know is policy. [And] when it comes to knowing how to reform government and the policy that goes with it, I’d rather come from outside of Washington than from inside. What you’ve gotta know is politics. And I think Chicago can teach Washington something about politics. And you’ve got to know something about the press. That’s not something you learn from Washington either.”

Emanuel said three “skill sets” are essential for the chief of staff: “politics, press and policy.” Daley “did a good job” at all three, he said.

“Major trade agreements got done under his watch. Not that Bill was personally responsible, but he helped the president think through a major decision on dealing with Osama bin Laden. Extracting America in the final stages of Iraq. Thinking through what we’re doing on Afghanistan. The budget negotiations and proposals that came with dealing with the reduction of the long-term deficit,” Emanuel said.

“He has a lot of milestones. And I know he’s gonna walk out of the White House with his head held high for a job well done.”

Emanuel said he expects his longtime friend to re-join the private sector, co-chair Obama’s re-election campaign and continue to serve as an “important resource to the city.”

“I talk to Bill daily — literally. And that’s not a play on the name,” he said.

Emanuel’s defense of Bill Daley is somewhat magnanimous, considering the fact that Daley was not always so kind to Emanuel.

During an October interview with Politico’s Roger Simon, Daley bristled at being compared to his predecessor, saying Emanuel was not as “beloved” as people now say.

Daley also charged that part of his downfall in the position was that he was “not as aggressive leaking and stroking” the media as Emanuel, whom he derisively characterized as the “leaker-in-chief.”

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