Preet Bharara: From CAFE, welcome to Stay Tuned. I’m Preet Bharara.
Rahm Emanuel: One of the things that Democrats have to offer is a sense of creating fellowship and reestablishing the threads that unite us rather than figuring out which ones divide us. You don’t need a genius to identify things that divide us. You need a leader who can identify the things that remind us of our fellowship.
Preet Bharara: That’s Rahm Emanuel. He’s had a storied career in public service as a staffer to President Bill Clinton, as a congressman from Illinois who chaired the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the House Democratic Caucus before leaving Congress to serve as President Obama’s first chief of staff. Then in 2011, Emanuel was elected the mayor of Chicago and served for two terms before leaving office in 2019. He joins me to talk about his new book, The Nation City: Why Mayors Are Now Running the World. We taped this conversation last week before a more significant response from federal and state governments to the rapidly evolving coronavirus threat. But Emanuel’s focus on local public servants, our country’s new leaders, resonates powerfully in this moment. We talk about whether good presidents are ruthless and if any of our public figures today have this quality. Why Democrats have an aversion to power and how to rise above this president’s office to stoke division across the country. That’s coming up, stay tuned.
Preet Bharara: Hey Stay Tuned listeners, if you haven’t heard already, on Tuesday we taped a special episode of the CAFE Insider Podcast all about the coronavirus. Usually each week, former New Jersey AG, Anne Milgram, joins me to talk about the latest political news but this week we were joined by a special guest, Lisa Monaco, former Homeland Security adviser to President Obama and current member of Vice President Joe Biden’s public health advisory committee, who joined us to break down all the important issues raised by the pandemic. Normally, we sample a portion of our conversation but this week, given the urgency of the news, we’re making the full conversation free. Just head to cafe.com/preet to sign up to receive the full episode if you don’t already receive our emails. If you already receive emails from CAFE, this should be in your inbox. Otherwise, to listen to the full episode for free, head to cafe.com/preet.
Preet Bharara: Hey listeners, instead of our usual start to the show where I answer your questions, we have a special guest to answer all of my and your questions about the coronavirus, Ian Bremmer. He’s the president and founder of the political risk consulting firm, Eurasia Group and GZERO Media. He’s also the host of the podcast GZERO World with Ian Bremmer. And most importantly, he’s been on the Stay Tuned Podcast before to talk about global risks last year and in January. And with that, Ian, thank you for joining me this morning, Wednesday, March 18th, to discuss the latest news.
Ian Bremmer: Preet, I’ve missed you so.
Preet Bharara: I have missed you also, especially in these very troubling times. So, I want to let the listeners know that a week ago, I got a direct message from you and it was one line, and it was just, “Okay. I’m worried now.”
Ian Bremmer: And you know, you’re the only person I sent that to. I swear to God that is the case.
Preet Bharara: I got to say Ian, when you send me a text saying you’re worried now, that actually makes me worried. So I’m glad you’re here to talk about the consequences of the coronavirus to the response and also to other things. You’ll recall that you were on the show pretty recently, at the end of January, talking about what your firm puts out every year, sort of a list of the top global risks in the world. And I had pointed out in our interview, I said, “Can we talk about one thing quickly that’s not in here?” And you said, “Yeah, sure.” And I said, “It’s a thing that I’ve been starting to worry about because I’m one of those people who worries about dread diseases.” And you said, “I was going to say pandemics.” And then I said, “So the coronavirus, that’s very troubling to me and to my family and to a lot of folks. And can you say something about that?” And you did, but it was not in your report. Do you think your report is in need of an update?
Ian Bremmer: Absolutely. And it’s actually coming out today. It’s the first time since we started the firm in ’98 that we’ve ever done a intra-year top risks report. And you’ll remember what I said about the pandemic was that it was reflected in the fact that there was so much greater likelihood of these tail risk events having a really significant impact because the politics are so dysfunctional right now. So whatever it happened to be, whether it was a massive sudden cyber attack or is a pandemic, the fact that the politics both domestically and internationally are really not aligned, makes me worry a lot more.
Ian Bremmer: So, I’m still not worried about our institutions falling apart here in the United States or in Europe. And in fact, I mean, if you listen to Pence over the last couple of days, not Trump, not Trump, or watch Mnuchin and Nancy Pelosi work together or look at all of the European Union members come together in the way that they are trying to build effective economic and financial responses, you say, “Oh, these institutions work.” But if you look at the global environment and the world order that is increasingly likely to emerge on the back of this pandemic, I really don’t think we’re going to like what we see.
Preet Bharara: So the number one risk that you assessed in your report was the American political situation in the election. How does the coronavirus, which has just become the most important priority and issue for everyone including, at this point, late but finally, Donal Trump, how does it affect the way you think about the number one global risk in your report?
Ian Bremmer: Well, let’s stipulate, to use a legal term of art for you. That the most important thing for Trump is still his reelection. And so, as a consequence, he’s prepared to do pretty much anything to ensure that he’s still president after January. That being the case, he now has a real problem and while it’s not reflecting in his numbers yet, it’s going to. I mean, this is a massive economic hit. You’ve got American officials saying that you could have 20% unemployment if you don’t get really extraordinary amount of stimulus in short order. We see the entire economy on the precipice of shutting down and the markets’ taking bigger hits than any time since 1987 day to day.
Ian Bremmer: This is for a president who was running, in large part, on the extraordinary successes of the American economy. Some are overstated, some real. So, the likelihood that he’s able to win reelection has gone down significantly. He’s going to take action in that regard and I think that action is going to include politicizing investigations around soon to be Democratic nominee Joe Biden. It’s going to be around talk of whether you can hold primaries effectively or even the election effectively given difficulties of people traveling to polling places, the ability to disenfranchise targeted voters in swing states by changing the way that the election is conducted when people can’t physically get to those places easily [crosstalk]
Preet Bharara: So you’re saying he’s going to play even dirtier than he has before.
Ian Bremmer: Absolutely. I think there’s no question of that. And to be fair, I mean, it’s also more plausible that we get a true blowout against Trump. But given the demographics in this country, I still think the likely outcome of the election is going to be fairly close and therefore vulnerable to a sense that it’s going to be rigged. And I think that given what’s going to happen in this country, given what we’re about to experience over the next several months, it is clear that coronavirus and the response is going to be the single biggest issue in the upcoming election.
Ian Bremmer: And even though Trump did have success in closing down travel from China early and he took a hit from the Chinese government on that, on almost every other front, the response from the U.S. administration has been seriously underwhelming. And I think that’s a problem for him.
Preet Bharara: So you don’t think there’s a possibility of the coronavirus hitting its peak in, as the governor of New York says, 45 days. Things recede, we get control of it, the markets bounce back and by the time we get to the election on November, all this is in the rear view mirror. You don’t think that’s a possibility?
Ian Bremmer: I think that’s unlikely. I think the amount of control that the U.S. government is going to need to put in place is not going to be accomplishable at a consistent national level. You’ll see hard line responses in certain states, certain cities, you won’t in other places. I think that is a really big deal. And so, as a consequence, I mean, in other words, I think it’s implausible to imagine you see a China or even a South Korea type response in the United States. And given the infectiousness and seriousness, severity of this disease, that implies that 45 days just doesn’t get you there. And the modeling that we’re now seeing that the federal government is getting, certainly implies more of a U as opposed to a V.
Preet Bharara: Why do you think given that Trump cares so much about reelection? And I agree with that, why was he so late to take this seriously? I mean, going back to our interview, in literally the same timeframe that you and I were talking about the coronavirus and how serious it was, and what a looming crisis it might be, he was calling it a hoax and saying it’s not a big deal, even though he’s now pretending that … I think he said this week …
Donald Trump: This is a pandemic. I felt it was a pandemic long before it was called a pandemic. All you had to do was look at other countries. I think it’s in almost 120 countries all over the world. No, I’ve always viewed it as very serious. There was no difference yesterday from days before.
Preet Bharara: Why was he so slow on this?
Ian Bremmer: Yeah. Well, I mean, he’s a little bit like Mohammad Bin Salman in this way, which is …
Preet Bharara: He’s like MBS?
Ian Bremmer: Yeah. In the sense that he’s always believing the most positive plausible interpretation of anything, especially when it involves numbers. And he’s a natural exaggerator, advertiser, showman, brander and take that personality. And in order to be effective with that, you have to be able to believe a fair amount of it yourself, really internalize it. And add to that, the fact that he doesn’t really like or internalize expertise and he has a limited attention span. That means that when people were coming to him with bad news, they were sugarcoating it. They first had to say what a great job he was doing and how of course everything was fine and then try to sneak in sort of a some adulation into that message, which of course, that’s already a process which is going to make it harder for him to be willing to accept and he’s not aligned internally to accepting it.
Ian Bremmer: So, when you put all of those things together, it makes it really hard to get Trump to try to steer the ocean line or Trump towards the direction of the impending iceberg. Have him recognize, hey, we’ve got a real serious problem here yet you’re looking on the half deck, but right in front of us is this massive disaster. And if you don’t slow down the engines, we’re going to hit it. And there’s no question that over the course of the past two months, the willingness of President Trump to believe plausible scientific scenarios that were being put forward by Dr. Anthony Fauci at the National Institutes of Health, being put forward by Harvard Medical School, by all sorts of other studies that were being written up.
Ian Bremmer: And again, folks internal to the Trump administration, he just wasn’t there. And that’s really going to cost this country. That, and the fact that we’ve under-invested in our healthcare system for a long time. And again, not consistently so. So Americans think that we’re the best at everything and the fact is, our healthcare system is actually not up to the level of other advanced industrial economies. And that’s one of the reasons why I think that the response that you’re going to see from a lot of cities and states around the country is going to be a lot harsher than just a month or two because I don’t think our healthcare system is anywhere close to up to the measure right now to be able to respond to the kinds of people that will need intensive care as this really spreads.
Preet Bharara: I want to get to some of that capacity issue in a second but just playing out what you were saying about Trump, and I appreciate that you also have a degree in psychology. Where did you get that degree? We all do, we all talk about the president’s psychology.
Ian Bremmer: The same place you did Preet. I mean, this is a psychological school of hard knocks you and I both grew up with.
Preet Bharara: Exactly. Although, I don’t know how hard your knocks were.
Ian Bremmer: If we didn’t recognize people’s psychology, we were going to get our asses kicked by the neighborhood bullies, right?
Preet Bharara: That’s actually … We don’t have to talk about my bullying right now. I’m anxious enough as it is. [crosstalk]
Ian Bremmer: But we had to talk our way out of that. That’s all I’m saying.
Preet Bharara: Yes. No, 100%.
Ian Bremmer: Yes.
Preet Bharara: To not get punched when I was in seventh grade, I had to have something clever to say. That’s not going to get you … I guess the reason you were going to get away by not being punched is because we’re socially distancing. So how do we play this out? I understand you’re saying that Trump likes to see the rosiest picture when he’s given a set of numbers and options. So this is not a static situation so over the coming weeks and months, there are going to be additional moments, inflection points, when Donald Trump can do x or y and he’s going to be getting a range of scenarios. Isn’t he going to keep doing that? Is there any reason to suppose that he’s going to hunker down and do the most serious thing and take the most drastic and appropriate action going forward? Because he hasn’t done that before.
Ian Bremmer: I think there’s a reason to suppose that he’s going to let Vice President Pence, who in my view, has done a remarkably competent job over the last couple of weeks in all of the opportunities he’s had to give press statements and to take a leadership role, Fauci, Health and Human services, all the rest. I think that they will now be empowered. Again, if you look at what Mnuchin, what the other members of the administration have been saying, I mean, they certainly all feel empowered to take all possible measures to respond. So, in other words, I think now that Trump recognizes that this is a true danger to his reelection and the markets are taking massive hits on t back of it, he needs people that actually know what they’re doing to respond.
Preet Bharara: But there’s one issue with that, I’m going to go rely back again on my psychology degree. He does not like other people having the limelight. And I’m sure he’s seen some of the stories that echo what you just said. And a lot of people listening to this probably don’t like Mike Pence much either, but I agree with those people who have said the difference in the ability to look presidential and to communicate effectively and not to go down crazy rabbit holes, on the part of Mike Pence as compared to Donald Trump, is really noticeable. And I think the best thing Donald Trump could do is not go to these press conferences at all.
Ian Bremmer: Clearly. And stop tweeting, we all know that.
Preet Bharara: But he can’t help himself.
Ian Bremmer: Yap. So he’s still going to be a distraction, he’s still going to say things that are obviously fake news. And I do think he represents a very significant risk in the response to this in a way that I can talk about in a second. But I think that even with Pence getting positive press and getting, surely, a Time Magazine cover in short order. I don’t have any inside information on that, I just expect it’s going to happen, and it will insense the president. And maybe for our national security, I should actually call the editor-in-chief of Time and tell him not to do that. “Just hold off dude, just hold off.” But I think that if Trump-
Preet Bharara: And not Fauci either because that also would kill him.
Ian Bremmer: That’s right. If Trump, who’s 79 years old, he’s older than Bernie Sanders and you’d never know it. I mean, I’ve already tweeted Fauci for president 2020. I’m ready for that. But I think that if Trump is going to let any of those guys go, he’s going to wait until it looks like we’re actually coming out of this thing. So, maybe that risks second order outbreaks in the United States but I think as long as this is truly a disaster and we don’t know how deep the rabbit hole goes, it is hard to imagine Trump wanting to get rid of someone and take the responsibility on himself.
Preet Bharara: Right.
Ian Bremmer: I think the danger, and there’s a real danger here and we’ve seen it just in the last couple of days, is that Trump is going to start blaming folks. And he tried to blame Obama, he’s tried to blame Biden. Those things really don’t pass the sniff test but he’s blaming China. And I think the likelihood that we get into a very serious fight with the Chinese over this, is real and dangerous. And that could mean that we emerge in a very different global order than the one that we have right now.
Preet Bharara: Well, that’s kind of an astonishing thing you just said. What’s the basis for blaming China other than the fact that this virus originated from there?
Ian Bremmer: Well, it’s not just that it originated from there, it’s that it originated from there and they lied about it. They covered it up for over a month, put their people in incredible harms way.
Preet Bharara: Oh, did they call it a Democratic hoax too?
Ian Bremmer: I wish they called it a Democratic hoax. No, they called it nothing at all. They actually reprimanded the doctor that tried to whistle-blow on this issue, forced him to renounce his initial statement. He died by the way, about a month and a half ago from the virus, from exposure. And while nothing was going on officially, according to the Chinese government, millions of Chinese from Wuhan are traveling all over the world and that of course, is how we got the initial outbreaks to expand the way they did in Iran, in Italy, in the United States.
Ian Bremmer: I mean, very clearly, the proximate, initial responsibility of this virus comes from China and comes in part, because of the mishandling and misrepresenting of the virus by an authoritarian Chinese government. But the fact that that is all true, does not in any way mean that it is useful for the Americans to point fingers at the Chinese directly right now.
Preet Bharara: But it’s useful politically.
Ian Bremmer: Exactly.
Preet Bharara: People have been saying about this, unlike other battles that the president has had with Biden or with Adam Schiff or with Democrats generally that he can belittle and he can attack and he can give nicknames to and he can bully. He doesn’t really have that with microbes so he has to substitute in an adversary and you’re basically saying that adversary is going to be China.
Ian Bremmer: That’s right. And-
Preet Bharara: And how does that play out?
Ian Bremmer: Well, not well. I mean, maybe the most important point here, Preet, is that the Chinese government feels a lot more confident today coming out of this coronavirus crisis in China as the rest of us head more deeply into it, than they did following the 2008 financial crisis. Obviously, in part, that’s because they have implemented a successful and unprecedented quarantine. It hurt their economy pretty heavily and there’s still damage to be done but they have come close to defeating the virus domestically in China, at least for now.
Ian Bremmer: And furthermore, China is where all of the medical pharmaceutical supplies, medicines, you name it, that’s where the supply chain comes from. So, that production is critical for the rest of the world. And what we see the Chinese now doing is traveling all over the world and providing masks and tests and medical personnel in Italy, in Spain, in Eastern Europe, in the Middle East, and being thanked profusely by these governments. We see Jack Ma, the wealthiest Chinese offering 500,000 test kits and a million masks to the Americans who have been unable to produce those test kits for our own citizens thus far.
Ian Bremmer: I mean, after 9/11, Prince Alwaleed from Saudi Arabia offered some money to rebuild New York and Giuliani told him to go scratch, this is a very different context in the U.S.. So, our president is now referring to this as the Chinese flu, the Chinese virus, and he’s doing it consistently and the Republicans are picking it up and the media is starting to pick it up. And the Chinese government, just this week, has said that they are kicking out all journalists from the New York Times, who by the way have been very sympathetic in their coverage of China, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, not only from mainland China but also from Macau and Hong Kong, which goes against basic law agreement between China and Hong Kong. They don’t care.
Preet Bharara: So how big a deal is the kicking out of the journalists?
Ian Bremmer: It’s a very big deal. I mean, it again shows that the Chinese are indifferent to agreements they have with these organizations, they are indifferent to the rules that they have set both with them as well as with Hong Kong, that they feel much more confident in being able to lash out against the Americans even in the midst of this crisis when the United States is about to experience certainly an economic hit as bad as 2008, maybe much, much worse and the Chinese aren’t being helpful. The Chinese aren’t asking for a joint taskforce. They’re not calling for a G20, they’re instead actually escalating a confrontation with the world’s largest economy. That really doesn’t say good things geopolitically.
Preet Bharara: I’m all confused then. Is this a conflict that Trump seeks or a conflict that China is engaging in and that Trump is prepared to join for political reasons?
Ian Bremmer: I think that Trump increasingly seeks it for the political reasons that you identified and the Chinese are absolutely prepared for it.
Preet Bharara: And so what actions do you think Trump will take on behalf of the country to exact “retaliation” or vengeance on the Chinese?
Ian Bremmer: Well let me just give you a few examples, one would be that clearly the Chinese are not going to make good on the execution of all of the goods they were supposed to buy from the United States in the Phase One trade deal that heretofore, President Trump had been touting as really good and really important and a great deal and Xi Jinping is a great guy and he’s a strong leader. So, you could easily imagine Trump blames the Chinese for that, pulls out of the deal and actually re-implements tariffs against the Chinese, blaming them for refusing to actually implement a deal that they signed.
Ian Bremmer: You can imagine that Chinese tourists, students no longer feeling welcome in the United States. Again, a lot of them have left because of coronavirus but what happens if … And you remember after 9/11, the way Saudis were treated if they tried to come into the United States. What would happen if Chinese Americans were treated like that by ICE officials, by Homeland Security officials? What if we see some racist acts against Chinese on the ground in the United States that are not policed well and that Trump takes a patriotic message from that?
Ian Bremmer: Not to mention the fact that we already have an awful lot of companies that are thinking that their supply chain in China is a just in time supply chain. It doesn’t work very well. What they need is a just in case supply chain, which they don’t have. Like if things go badly, where else might you produce from? China is potentially a problem for you. You’re going to see a lot of movement. What if Trump starts saying it is patriotic not to produce any of these things in China anymore, we must produce in the United States. You and I can both easily see Trump doing all of those things.
Preet Bharara: Will he then stop production of his own items and goods in China?
Ian Bremmer: Well, I mean, the hypocrisy around the Trump organization has never been something usefully raised in terms of are we going to see consistency in how Trump treats his own immigrant workers, for example, that are needed for Mar-a-Lago as opposed to everybody else’s. I mean, we can make fun of the fact that there will still be Trump ties that probably are made in China. Unfortunately or fortunately, I don’t think that’s a relevant piece of the policy analysis that will come out of the Trump presidency.
Preet Bharara: Can we talk about the economy both domestically and globally?
Ian Bremmer: Yeah.
Preet Bharara: First, in the United States, are we in a recession?
Ian Bremmer: If we’re not in a recession right now, technically speaking, we will be very shortly. And yeah, I think we’re functionally in a recession right now.
Preet Bharara: So you think there’s no way America avoids a recession. You think that’s 100%?
Ian Bremmer: 99. I mean, close to. I think that’s pretty right.
Preet Bharara: Is there a possibility of being in what economists call …
Ian Bremmer: I’d be surprised but again, because I believe that the level of stimulus that we see, the level of financial support from the Fed, implies that we don’t have a banking meltdown. Regulations put in place after 2008, also help to facilitate that in terms of the credit that was the cash that was kept on hand for these financial institutions making them more resilient. I mean, a lot of people are going to face a lot of hardship but I think that checks are going to be written to every American in relatively short order.
Ian Bremmer: I think that big bailouts are coming for industries that have been particularly badly hurt. That doesn’t mean Americans aren’t going to suffer and a lot of them are going to suffer a lot. It’ll be most obviously in terms of the healthcare system getting overwhelmed but at this point, unless the epidemiology of this disease is significantly worse than the scenarios that are being painted by Homeland Security and Harvard and others that I’ve seen recently, which imply could be 10 to 20 times worse in mortality than last year’s flu, so a very big deal, then I think you can probably avoid a depression.
Preet Bharara: You referred to something that you term a geopolitical recession, what’s that? And are we in that?
Ian Bremmer: Yeah. I mean, this is … The big problem here is that the last crisis that we’ve had, 9/11, 2008, they’ve happened when the geopolitical order was doing well, when we had a boom cycle. We are in a geopolitical recession. It means that the existing geopolitical order is not functioning, the United States is less willing to lead internationally as global sheriff, as architective global trade, as cheerleader of global values, the transatlantic relationship is much weaker, it’s less aligned on key national security, economic and technology issues. Domestically, our institutions within Democratic countries around the world are seeing to be less legitimized and more polarization exists in these countries.
Ian Bremmer: And then we have the Chinese expanding, becoming much stronger and not aligned with our values, our political, our economic systems, building competitive architecture internationally. And the Russians in decline but blaming us and trying to undermine our political institutions, in some cases, successfully. So you put all that together, that’s not the old U.S. led global order, it’s something very different. It’s a geopolitical recession.
Ian Bremmer: And a geopolitical recession doesn’t matter that much when you’re in steady state global economy. But when suddenly you have a big recession and a shock, that’s when you notice the geopolitical recession. That’s when you realize, “Oh my God, the G20 is not coming together, the G7 isn’t aligned. These countries aren’t working together, they’re blaming each other. They’re taking an every nation for itself approach.” And that’s when it becomes more likely that you break things and that you sow the seeds for a new global order that we may not like very much at all. That’s what a geopolitical recession really reflects.
Preet Bharara: Coming back to the United States, you made reference to checks going out, do you think that’s effective? A check for 1,000 bucks or 2,000 bucks or some people are saying even more than that, to every adult means tested or not means tested. Is that really going to do the trick when we have-
Ian Bremmer: I think it helps. I think it’s part of a solution because it can be done very quickly. I’m not-
Preet Bharara: Can it be done quickly? It seems to me that as matter of logistics, nothing on that scale happens very quickly.
Ian Bremmer: Talking to the banks that have some experience in this, I mean, certainly we’re not talking months, we’re talking weeks. So yeah.
Preet Bharara: So you think the likelihood is that the majority of people who are listening to this podcast can expect a check from the government in the coming weeks.
Ian Bremmer: Yes. Yes. And not only the majority, I expect it will be everyone. I think it won’t be means tested because that will actually slow it down. And the amount of people that get those additional checks that don’t need them, it’s kind of a drop in the buckets as opposed to what [crosstalk] do.
Preet Bharara: Because I know somebody who doesn’t need that check and his name is Ian Bremmer.
Ian Bremmer: Yeah, yeah. Yeah. Preet, I mean, you and I we will do something. I’m sure you and I will do something constructive. If you want, we can announce it publicly together. That’s [crosstalk]
Preet Bharara: Yeah. Well, I don’t need the check. I would donate it somewhere where it would have the most effect. But you think as a matter of just logistics and speed, means testing the checks is a bad idea.
Ian Bremmer: I think that’s right. I think that, again, just because we’re talking about … Let’s say we’re talking about like 10% of the population that truly doesn’t need it, finding who those 10% are and making it effective, it is absolutely not worth the delays and the bureaucracy. Look, part of the reason that we have been really slow to respond has been prioritization. I mean, the amount of time that diplomats have had to take and that Homeland Security has had to take in trying to identify who all the Americans are on cruise ships and getting them back to the United States, American experts stranded abroad.
Ian Bremmer: I’m not saying these things aren’t important, but they clearly are vastly less important than the responses that we need to make to coordinate internationally and domestically for an effective and big response to this crisis. I mean, there are just so many things that we can talk about all of the things that matter and would be good to be able to do in an ideal, we need triage. And if we don’t get policy triage in very short order, we’re going to have epidemiological triage where our doctors have to decide that a whole piece of the population doesn’t get medical support because they’re comparatively unlikely to survive and therefore have less value. I mean, you know those studies about you’ve got the trolley coming down the tracks and who do you save? We don’t want to have to make those decisions.
Preet Bharara: Yeah. I mean, you’re basically saying when time is of the essence and lives are on the line, blunt force needs to be applied and needs to be applied quickly.
Ian Bremmer: Yes.
Preet Bharara: So, some other things that are being debated with respect to the congressional response are bailouts. And I understand that the airline industry is very important. It’s a quasi utility, some people say. And that the airline industry failed, it would have massive effects on the economy. So, it’s in some ways, to borrow a phrase from I guess the decade before the last decade, too big to fail. But what do you make of the criticism the people have that if we’re going to bailout the airline industry, they’d have to be strings attached, including that they do things to make sure that their workers are okay, that when they make a lot of profit, they can’t buy back their stock to goose the price of their stock and all sorts of other restrictions. Is that fair or not?
Ian Bremmer: No. I have no problem with that. You’re getting a bailout from the American people fundamentally. This is going to be on our deficit, either that or it’s going to be taking away from our net worth. I think that you have to imply a greater level of stewardship from the government when you do that, at least until such time as they pay it back. And let’s keep in mind, that these bailouts frequently, you can make money on bailouts. Remember AIG and the investment made by the U.S. governments, the bailout there. I mean, that ended up being kind of a win for them and people forgot about the fact that the headline numbers when the economy rebounded, a lot of that money ended up not coming out of the taxpayers. But until such time as they’re capable of actually making the taxpayers whole, I think that there’s no problem with significant restrictions on the executive decision-making that these airlines have to have.
Preet Bharara: And do you think that will come to pass or are there going to be a core of Republicans who will oppose that?
Ian Bremmer: I don’t know the answer to that. I think because again, this is a really heavy debate about a lot of money with people that are very ideologically divided and under a fairly strict time gun not only in terms of the urgency of the crisis, but also before Congress itself goes into recess. And a lot of these, these are older people, a lot of them have preexisting health conditions themselves in Senate and House. They are in Washington DC in a social environment. A lot of them really want to get the hell out of dodge.
Preet Bharara: Yeah. Well, a lot of them are in a difficult demographic themselves.
Ian Bremmer: True. By the way, on that front, just one thing to think about as we think about the elections, and I don’t want to be morbid about this, but I mean, if the worst comes to pass in terms of the next six months, somebody is going to want to do a demographic study of voters in key swing states and how many are, let’s say, in the critical demographic at-risk of coronavirus because-
Preet Bharara: For what purpose?
Ian Bremmer: Because that’s going to change voting … It could change voting in a meaningful way.
Preet Bharara: Well, we should move to voting by mail, shouldn’t we?
Ian Bremmer: Absolutely. No. But I’m just talking about who’s actually available to vote. I mean, you know how …
Preet Bharara: Oh, you’re being much more omnist than I realized.
Ian Bremmer: Yeah. I mean, you think about how close the election was back in 2016 and you think about what the actual population is going to look like in November in some of those places. I mean, believe me, I hope that as we all are able to get through this in sound mind and body, that is not going to happen. And that is actually going to change the demographic that is most likely to vote. I mean, young people don’t vote, older people do. And yes, first of all, it’s going to question of whether we can get to vote by mail and can we do that effectively, and is that going to be a challenge? But also, I mean, who’s made it to November? Something that is at least worth mentioning.
Preet Bharara: Well, yeah. I pray that you’re wrong about that. Are there whole industries other than the obvious, like the airline industry, that you’re worried will be forever damaged like for example the restaurant industry?
Ian Bremmer: Yeah. I mean, the cruise line industry is clearly going to be damaged in a very serious way and I don’t know that there’s necessarily going to be the same urgency for bailout nor should there be as there is for airlines. Then you just have all of these smaller businesses that involve service workers who … I mean, the restaurant industry, all sorts of small retail. I mean, just general big box retail because I mean, Amazon and others that are working capably in digital space, are just going to clean up in this environment and people aren’t necessarily going to be comfortable going back to stores when they’re not only the reality of the crisis means that they can’t but also they then get more comfortable, they’ve built their accounts, they’ve done their searches. It’s now easier for them to become regular users of digital space. Do you think all those people are really going to go back to their old buying patterns? The answer is no.
Ian Bremmer: I mean, one of the biggest hurdles for a lot of these digital companies are the folks that are comfortable just going retail. Once you’ve suddenly showed that they can be comfortable doing digital for three months, for six months, a lot of them are going to be out of the retail environment. At least restaurants, people are still going to want … Once it’s safe, people are going to want to go back to restaurants. When it comes to basic retail, bricks and mortar in the United States, I’m not sure it comes back like that, right?
Preet Bharara: Yeah. Can I ask you sort of a question that will put people’s thinking in perspective? You’re a smart guy, you analyze risk for a living, that’s your bread and butter, that’s your profession. And yet we’re at a stage now where everyday we’re like, “What the hell is going on?” When Tom Hanks got the coronavirus and then they canceled the NBA, things like that were really stunning and drawing to people. Did you anticipate all of that? Was it jarring to you just like it is for ordinary people who go about their lives who are not in this profession? And if so, when did that happen when you thought, “Holy cow.” Was it when you texted me a week ago saying, “Okay, I’m worried now.” And why did that happen?
Ian Bremmer: As soon as I saw Italy. Because I mean, the South Korean explosion, because it was comparatively well handled with lots of tests that were available, and again, just something that I wants focusing on how many tests the South Koreans had and could deploy compared to the Europeans. That felt like, okay, so Taiwan, South Korea and Singapore. Okay, Singapore is comparatively hot but still South Korea, the temperature is a lot like in the United States, they’re able to deploy and respond relatively quickly. You could imagine a much better trajectory for the rest of the West as it were.
Ian Bremmer: As soon as I saw Italy, which … And I mean, we’re not talking Southern Italy, we’re talking Northern Italy. I go there all the time. It is wealthy. They have a strong healthcare system. They’ve got great infrastructure. Milano has one of the most effective mayors in the world who, again, I know personally. As soon as I saw that hitting Lombardy and I saw doctors making decisions of life or death and saying, “You’re just not going to get any support because we are overwhelmed here.” Then I’m like, that can easily happen in part of the United States. At that point, is when I sent you that text. I was like, “Okay, that worries me because now I know that this is going to be not just contained to big economic damage from China.”
Ian Bremmer: It was clear to me we were going to have big economic damage in China, larger than was expected. They were lying about some of their numbers, particularly Shanghai and Beijing, wasn’t clear how well they were going to be able to restart if they have secondary outbreaks. And because they make so much for everyone and all of our supply chains are interlinked, that meant to me a more significant economic hit around the world and we had expected that, plus the oil war between the Saudis and the Russians pushing crisis down below 30 now. That implied pretty significant economic hit this year. And a lot of emerging markets could go into crisis, like we’ve already seen in Argentina and Lebanon. But as soon as I saw Northern Italy, this was in a completely different frame for me. And that’s when I sent you that.
Preet Bharara: So, any final pieces of advice to people who might be listening?
Ian Bremmer: Yeah. I think that, as I said at the beginning, the institutions in the United States, in Europe and Japan are still quite strong. And as we come out of this, they’re going to function much the way they have. But I do worry about so many people that aren’t of means, that are not going to be able to get basic services. And the growth and populism that we’ve seen over decades now, has the potential to expand in ways that are much more damaging to our societies on the back of this.
Ian Bremmer: Feelings of greater class warfare at a time when the Chinese internationally are feeling a lot more confident. I worry that the next year, we come out of this in ways that are just a world that we’re not going to be as happy about, and that’s worth paying a lot of attention to. Otherwise, be close to the people that you care about but don’t actually touch them.
Preet Bharara: Well, I should point out, as I alluded to before, I’m in my home, I’m in the basement of my home, not in any close proximity to you or to the folks on my team. I hope you’re doing okay.
Ian Bremmer: You too man. I miss you.
Preet Bharara: One day soon we’ll get back together.
Ian Bremmer: I look forward to it.
Preet Bharara: Thanks Ian. Ian Bremmer, thanks so much.
Ian Bremmer: Big virtual hug Preet.
Preet Bharara: Right back at you. It’s time for short break. Stay tuned.
Preet Bharara: My guest this week is Rahm Emanuel who served as the mayor of Chicago from 2011 to 2019. He also served in the White House as President Obama’s first chief of staff and Bill Clinton’s senior advisor and also on Capital Hill as a congressman from Illinois. After returning to private life, Emanuel joined ABC News as a special contributor and he’s a senior advisor at Centerview Partners. Emanuel recently wrote the book, The Nation City: Why Mayors Are Now Running the World. It’s a deep dive into the priorities and principles guiding mayors across the country. And a manifesto arguing why cities need to step up when the federal government steps back. Emanuel has a reputation as a tough politician with a bit of a mouth, even President Obama has joked about it. But he’s also an idealist, which is something we sorely need right now.
Preet Bharara: Emanuel joins me to talk about why it matters who staffs the president, whether charisma is overrated, how cities are the center of a new urban politics, if Democrats are falling in line behind Joe Biden and the challenge that Americans do need to face right now. Plus, I ask him to fill in his own answer to Michelle Obama’s timeless phrase, when they go low, we go … That’s coming up, stay tuned.
Preet Bharara: Mayor Rahm Emanuel, thanks so much for being on the show. Appreciate it.
Rahm Emanuel: Thank you.
Preet Bharara: So, can I tell you one quick story, indulge me for a moment?
Rahm Emanuel: Sure.
Preet Bharara: That I’ve been wanting to tell you for a long time. And that is that I have three kids and our youngest child is named Rahm, R-A-H-M. Not after you, no offense, it was independently of you. But the reason I mention is that when you were running for mayor of Chicago, my in-laws live in the Chicago and my wife was out there and she saw these lawn signs that said, “Rahm for mayor.” And she texts me and says, “Can I grab one of these?” And I think I said, “No, that’s a felony.” I think she’d take someone else’s lawn sign.
Rahm Emanuel: No. A felony in Chicago is for a dead person to vote. You can take whatever lawn sign you want.
Preet Bharara: I was the U.S. attorney at the time and I thought members of my family should not be engaging in even misdemeanors.
Rahm Emanuel: Yeah.
Preet Bharara: And then I went to a wedding and was seated next to somebody who I think was your deputy mayor or top level staffer for you, told that story and three days later, we received in the mail, our very own Rahm for mayor poster, which is now framed in on the bedroom wall of our son.
Rahm Emanuel: How old is he?
Preet Bharara: He is now 15.
Rahm Emanuel: Oh, congratulations.
Preet Bharara: This was sometime ago so …
Rahm Emanuel: I mean, I will look in the basement and see if we have any more Rahm for mayor coffee cups. Since he’s 15, he’s on the …
Preet Bharara: He’s probably drinking a lot of coffee. Although, I don’t think so.
Rahm Emanuel: Yeah, I’m sure. At 15, I’m sure he is.
Preet Bharara: I just wanted you to know as we started off the interview that there is a bit of campaign paraphernalia of yours in my house. All right. So you have written a book. Congratulations on the book. It’s called The Nation City: Why Mayors Are Now Running then World. And ordinarily, I would say well, that’s kind of self-serving. You were a mayor of Chicago for two terms. Of course, you think mayors are great but you actually also served obviously at the highest levels in the House of Representatives, at the highest levels of the White House, multiple times. So you’re in some position to, I guess, credit mayors with being special and as the subtitle of your book indicates, your thesis basically is mayors effectively run the world now. Let me ask you the easiest question ever because it’s the thesis of your book.
Rahm Emanuel: Does that mean I get an A?
Preet Bharara: Well, it depends on how you answer.
Rahm Emanuel: Okay.
Preet Bharara: You’ll be graded on the curve because it’s an easy question.
Rahm Emanuel: Well, if we’re grading on the curve, I’m good. Go ahead.
Preet Bharara: Why is that so? Why mayors? Why are you disillusioned, as you seem to be a little bit, with what you call the nation state or federal government? Why are mayors better?
Rahm Emanuel: Well, let me say, I think both mayors and the cities and the people that they work with and govern with. So it’s both the mayors but also more importantly, the cities, and what’s in those cities that make them “a nation” and the most effective form of government. Look, I mean, one of reasons I ran for mayor was having worked by President Obama’s side as his first chief of staff, was I could feel the center of gravity moving and moving to the local level. And everybody that thinks of progressive policies always looks to Washington. And the truth is, it’s happening right there in your backyard in a government that’s closer to how you live your life. When you think about where you live, where you work, how you get to work, where your kids go to school, where your family enjoys the amenities of its parks, its library in the neighborhood, in the community, those are all services and things that local government does.
Rahm Emanuel: And you feel closer and more immediate to that government and impacted because you can impact the policies that impact the way you go about your life. Where you live, where you work, where you play. And two things I would say, what’s changed, is cities today, because the federal government has stepped back, are now not only doing those things that it’s done in the past but it’s now also doing climate change, income inequality, immigration policy, scientific research, et cetera. Things that used to be literally the real estate or the purview of the national government. And the federal government has become dysfunctional.
Preet Bharara: So, speaking of dysfunction, here we are recording on Wednesday March 11th and this podcast will air at some point in the coming days, but the most important story in the news right now is a crisis relating to the coronavirus. And so here, lots of people would say, and I’ve said on the show before, and I think I’ve heard you say, that there’s a lot of criticism that’s rightfully directed towards the president and the administration. How do you feel about a crisis like this where you kind of do need a collective, not just local response but national response when the federal government has failed in many ways including at the time of this recording, not having enough tests, minimizing the problem, not having enough transparency? Is even this an issue that can be solved locally by mayors when it’s of such national importance?
Rahm Emanuel: First, no. As I say, I think in the book many times, I don’t wish that the federal government wasn’t there. I want a federal partner, a strong federal partner. No city and no mayor can wait on a federal government to wake up to its responsibilities. I wanted it but I acknowledged that it wasn’t going to happen. And I mean, one of the things I point to, as an example, there are others in the book, I believe high school education is not sufficient anymore for the next 50 to 100 years. So we created the first ever free community college for our high school graduates, tuition books and transportation.
Rahm Emanuel: Could we debate it endlessly in Washington? Yeah. But I don’t think I could lose another generation of Chicago citizens on their future. So that’s an example of where you’re not going to stand by the sidelines anymore waiting for Godot from the national government. Now, I have been by President Obama’s side when we dealt with H1N1 and I’ve been a mayor when we dealt with Ebola. You need a federal government that sets clear policy, is transparent with the public, reassures them on the kind of public health protocols and then it makes sure that we’re coordinating the execution. The federal government needs a good office of public health at the local level, it needs at the local level an office of emergency response because it can’t on its own get an inventory of the healthcare workers, the hospitals, the services that are going to be delivered to deal with when the crisis emerges.
Rahm Emanuel: But what we have seen, when you compare H1N1 and the federal government or Ebola to this, how important those skillsets of trust, credibility, good management, belief in science and being forthright with the public on what the protocols are around public health policies. And I think that the president’s past and his current annunciations have all undermined what we need at this point. Cities can do certain things to step in but they can’t replace what are the testings, where are the kits? They can’t do that and that’s where you need the federal government. And I do think you’re going to find out how valuable that deep state is.
Preet Bharara: So I understand your point about the federal government and how the center shifted. My first question is, why has it shifted in your mind?
Rahm Emanuel: Well, early on in the book I deal with this anecdote but I think it’s telling. If you thought of kind of Teddy Roosevelt to the great society and Lyndon Johnson as one arc of thinking about the federal government as this incredible effort, about 60 year or 50 years ago, in the 60s, our cities are burning, they’re falling, people are fleeing, both companies and families to the suburbs. And Lyndon Johnson knows how important cities are to the Democratic base and he comes up with the model cities, of which headstart early childhood education, was a piece of that. It was also a piece of the war and poverty.
Rahm Emanuel: That’s kind of the apex. And it was both an ability to deal with education but also provide cities with some new money and a new investment. And also, deal with our social inequity. Fast-forward 50 years later, President Obama announces a goal of his is universal full-day pre-k. Cannot get the Congress to take action on it so he has a White House conference and invites 200 mayors and says, “I can’t get this done but you can. You guys do it.” And across the country, mayors from New York City, Chicago, Boston, San Antonio, Dallas, LA, are all implementing universal pre-k.
Rahm Emanuel: And I thought it told the story of what has happened in this time to the federal government. Now, what are the intervening events that went from action to inaction, saving cities to cities saving Washington? And part of this, and I say this as somebody who used to practice these dark arts, I think redistricting is a horrible … It’s polarized already a polarized political system. I think the role of money in politics, and I say that also as a former fundraiser, I think we have … If you look historically at our country, our political system and structure of a democracy and our economic system of capitalism are somewhat in conflict by principles. Inside those systems are conflicts and we have faced them before when they become an open conflict like the civil war. And then we had a president who had the grace to ask for malice towards none and charity towards all.
Rahm Emanuel: We have faced it in the great depression when we had a president who said we have nothing to fear but fear itself. And unfortunately we have a president now who has not made these divisions, they existed, but he is exacerbating them and using those divisions to stoke them for his greater political advantage.
Preet Bharara: How do you define what the divisions are that he’s stoking?
Rahm Emanuel: Well, there’s divisions in this country on race, there’s divisions in this country on education, there’s geographical divisions, cities, suburbs and rural. There’s divisions in this country, as I said, about education. And we have further and further Balkanized ourselves. I also say in the book beyond what I talked about in the sense of structural things like redistricting money. I think the decision by the FCC, the fairness doctrine and media was a horrible president to further aggravate already some challenges.
Rahm Emanuel: And one of the things I think about in our politics today, and I’ve written about this, not in the book but in other writings, we need leaders who call upon our fellowship not just upon our followers. And one of the things that we have to work on collectively is reestablishing our fellowship to each other. And I think people know what President Trump’s doing, pitting one American against American for his own political advantage, is not good for America. I think it’s actually one of the strings that Vice President Joe Biden breaks.
Rahm Emanuel: I wouldn’t call it the most important thing but we’re not going to go another 20 years as a country with this sort of self-antagonism. As PresidEnt Lincoln once said, a house divided can’t stand. And so, at some point, we’re going to have a leader who calls for the best of our fellowship and we all have a role to play in working on that rather than find our fellow citizens as our “not people we disagree with but our enemy”. That’s just a wrong way to look at each other.
Preet Bharara: It’s interesting what you just said because you must know that you have a reputation for being pretty tough and-
Rahm Emanuel: I am a [crosstalk]
Preet Bharara: And hard-edged and able to play hardball politics but just now you spoke, and in the book from time to time, you speak in somewhat idealistic terms. Do you consider yourself to be an idealist or a pragmatist or are those things not mutually exclusive?
Rahm Emanuel: I’m so glad you brought this. I think, first of all, we so much kind of try to get the world into a dichotomy or bipolar. I’ve written two books, both on policy, and yet I do practice politics.
Preet Bharara: The dark arts you said.
Rahm Emanuel: Well, some of them are dark arts, some of them are good arts.
Preet Bharara: Okay. Yeah.
Rahm Emanuel: But I do think this, I used to say to my kids when we would have dinners [inaudible] and stuff, that mainly for mayors, governors and presidents but also other people, you have to be a … If you look at a good president, a good governor, a good mayor, you have to be idealistic enough to know why you’re doing what you’re doing and ruthless enough and tough enough to get them done. President Lincoln, President Roosevelt, both of them, President Kennedy, were unbelievably idealistic but unbelievably tough politicians.
Preet Bharara: And would you call them ruthless?
Rahm Emanuel: Have you ever seen what the Kennedy’s did?
Preet Bharara: I’m not disagreeing with you, I’m just asking if you’d use that word.
Rahm Emanuel: Okay. You don’t like the ruthless, how about this? Tough enough to get it done.
Preet Bharara: Actually, I don’t dislike the word at all, I mean, I thought-
Rahm Emanuel: But here’s the thing, ruthless in the service of a goal that has a policy implication. Yes, I would call what sometimes as the Kennedy’s dealt with certain policies and things to get done. Yeah. So is President Roosevelt.
Preet Bharara: I mean, I’ve been in my own life referred to benevolent ruthlessness and I think there’s a value there. I think sometimes people were worried about Barrack Obama who you later worked for. They thought maybe he was not ruthless enough during the campaign and then he showed himself to be that way. Fair?
Rahm Emanuel: No. He was … Look, you never get to the oval office once, let alone twice, if you’re not tough. Just not going to happen. Once, let alone twice. And I think people made a misperception and misread both President Obama and President Clinton. And I think Democrats misread Ronald Reagan, Eisenhower and President Bush 43. Totally misread them. And so, I would say to you is no successful mayor or president or governor is one or the other. They have to have a combination of both to succeed.
Rahm Emanuel: Listen, I think in the book you’re referring to, I talk about … Yeah, I am a partisan Democrat. One of my best friends in the Congress was a Republican Ray LaHood. He was from downstate Illinois, I was from Chicago. He was a Republican, I was a Democrat. He was a child of a Lebanese immigrant and I was a child of an Israeli immigrant. You couldn’t find more things to disagree with. We had a very, very good friendship. And it started, and I say it in the book, we used to fly back to Chicago and he would try to catch his connection. If I had a seat closer to the front then his in the back and he was trying to connect, I’d give him my seat and I would take his seat so he could make the Chicago-Pierre connection. That became the basis of our friendship. That friendship became the basis we used to have a dinner every other week, six Republicans, six Democrats, all off the record. And we would just build those friendships and relationships. Now, I was also charged in the next two years to take back the majority but I also understood winning campaigns didn’t mean I couldn’t establish relationships with people.
Preet Bharara: Did those dinners continue while you had that job?
Rahm Emanuel: While I was the head of DCCC?
Preet Bharara: Yeah.
Rahm Emanuel: Absolutely.
Preet Bharara: But did they get less friendly?
Rahm Emanuel: Well, we may had to bring a food taster to the meeting. I’m not sure they thought I was their-
Preet Bharara: For you or for them or for both sides?
Rahm Emanuel: Both. Yeah. But to me, I think this … He or she are very good at policy. I mean, the more successful policy advisors to presidents are ones who are sensitive to the political implications and the more successful political operators are people that are aware of the policy implications of what they’re recommending.
Preet Bharara: I remain fascinated by this idea that idealism is important and wanting to accomplish something and having a good vision is important but you need to be ruthless in some ways in the pursuit of that vision. And we mentioned Obama and you mentioned Johnson and Roosevelt and some others, do you consider Trump to be ruthless in that way?
Rahm Emanuel: Yeah. But he’s absent-
Preet Bharara: He’s absent in the other side.
Rahm Emanuel: No. No. All he has is Donald Trump, he has nothing about America. I mean, he has no idealism, no vision and all the ruthlessness on behalf of Donald Trump. I just wish he had some of that for America and not for himself alone. And I do consider the things he did to get elected and things he’s doing to try to position himself, he is that tough without the North Stars that guide you. President Obama, take the healthcare … Or let me just start with the getting elected, I think it’s a fact.
Rahm Emanuel: There is racism in this country and President Obama not only got elected, he got reelected and he’s the first president since Eisenhower, who both in the election and the reelection got above 50%. No other president since Eisenhower did that. And he did it in the phase where I think we obviously have racism today. It’s an incredible testament to him as a person, him as a candidate and the campaigns he built and the administrations [inaudible 01:00:15]. He took on an issue healthcare that since Teddy Roosevelt, we try to get done and when it was some very, very, very, very dark moments, persevered in seeing it through.
Rahm Emanuel: And so, there is a toughness and people always underestimated his graciousness and his gentleness for a lack of strength. Same way they always thought that Clinton was always a compromiser and would never stand up and that’s when Newt misunderstood when he was willing to take the government shutdown. Newt thought he would fold like a cheap suit over Medicare and Medicaid, and he would not do it.
Preet Bharara: Do you think Bernie Sanders has the kind of ruthlessness we’re talking about?
Rahm Emanuel: I haven’t worked with him long enough or close enough to tell you that.
Preet Bharara: How about Joe Biden?
Rahm Emanuel: I have seen it with the vice president but I have seen a … You’re focusing on the ruthless, it’s interesting.
Preet Bharara: Because it’s sort of important. I think people on the progressive side don’t talk about it enough. They want vision and they’re not always thinking about the hardball way, which is why you have detractors for that reason but you also have a lot of people who respect you for that reason.
Rahm Emanuel: You know why that is? Ever since Lyndon Johnson, the Democrats have had a physical aversion to power and using it for a host of reasons because of Vietnam, et cetera and Watergate. And Democrats almost recoil. One of the things I always say that president, beyond the policies and we could talk about that, President Clinton and which is what scared Republicans about President Clinton, was he was comfortable both accumulating power and using that power. And that’s what scared Republicans about Bill Clinton.
Rahm Emanuel: My view is, and I get back to this, you got to be idealistic enough to know why you’re doing what you’re doing then tough enough, ruthless enough to get it done. And you can go through things on the new deal, you can go through things like on social security, you can go through the Civil War, you can go through the great society. And President Johnson defying his fellow southerners when he fought for civil rights. There was a toughness, a ruthlessness on behalf of an ideal. And just having that ideal without the practicality and the impulse and the drive of how important this is, you’ll never see that ideal become a reality.
Preet Bharara: How do you define power and its use? Is it influence, is it accomplishment, is it causing other people who are your opponents to have fear? How do you think about power?
Rahm Emanuel: Well, it’s all that and more. And that’s not a cheap answer because I can’t answer it. I think some of is how do you perceive Lyndon Johnson? Everybody knew the Johnson treatment where he would just lean in on you, literally take your physically space. And they knew he would be willing to do certain things, both good and bad, to you. Now, did he employ that all the time? No. Did he know that you knew that he could? Yes. And that’s an element of power. There’s also the power of an idea not just the power of a tactic.
Rahm Emanuel: And at a certain point in America after World War II, after the Brown versus the Board of Ed, the time had come for civil rights to this country. There was no escaping it. And Johnson was ready to use both the power of the office and the power of the idea of equality to bring it forth.
Preet Bharara: When you think about power, I mean, I guess I have a preliminary question, do you think about it and have you thought about it as a concept? Do you study it? Do you read Machiavelli? Do you do it by intuition? Do you think politicians should study the use and misuse of power in it of itself?
Rahm Emanuel: Well, of course. Think about it, I hate using this because we’re talking about political systems. But there’s hard power and soft power. And I talk about what mayors have in both hard power and soft power. Let me turn to one about soft power not in the sense of what we’re talking about legislative or other types of means. I think one of the things that this era is going to be remembered for is the deaths of despair where people have turned particularly parts of our society towards opioids, heroine, suicide and alcohol.
Rahm Emanuel: And that’s part of being alienated, feeling forgotten, lost, unheard, unseen. And mayors have the ability through their soft power with the relationship with places of worship, community groups, not for profits, to weave a community around our fellow citizens. And I really do think this is tearing at our soul as a country. This is a manifestation and a byproduct of a whole host of social economic forces. And while we talk about hard power of a Johnson or et cetera. I don’t think we should think about lose the sight. At the second inaugural when Lincoln says, at the tail end of the Civil War that literally killed 675,000 fellow Americans, that we should have malice towards none and charity towards all. What power those words had towards creating a purpose for the country.
Rahm Emanuel: Dr. King was not a president but he was a leader of this country and his power of having a vision and laying it in front of Americans to call forth our Americanness from all of us, it challenged us. And so, there’s both hard power, doing tough things, and there’s soft power that call forth different qualities. So, I think you should study it so you know when you need to use which and when and what skills and tactics not only come with it, but I also would say at this moment, one of the challenges that I think Americans are yearning for, which is why I think Donald Trump is extremely vulnerable, is that he has the …
Rahm Emanuel: The American public thinks we have big challenges and we have a president who has turned one American against another. And I think one of the things that Democrats have to offer is a sense of creating fellowship and reestablishing the threads that unite us rather than figuring out which ones divide us. You don’t need a genius to identify things that divide us. You need a leader who can identify the things that remind us of our fellowship. And that’s what I think we’re yearning for and I think that’s an important part of power too.
Preet Bharara: I’m reminded of a conversation I had with a former politician a few weeks ago based on the answer you just gave. And part of what you’re talking about is charismatic leadership. And this person was positing the following theory and I wonder what you think of it. He said, look, in Western democracies, it is often the case that to succeed on the progressive side, to get progressives to want to vote for you, you must be … I’ll give you a few examples of this. You must be exceedingly charismatic and people fall in love with you. Examples of that are the two presidents you worked before, Bill Clinton, Barack Obama. And example from the UK is Tony Blair.
Preet Bharara: Meanwhile, on the other side, the conservative side in America, the Republican side, Reagan is not an example of this but they often elect kind of milquetoast bland, non-charismatic leaders. Because on the liberal side, this person was theorizing. They really want to fall in love with their politician. Is that fair?
Rahm Emanuel: I don’t know. I mean, it’s interesting Clinton coined that Democrats like to fall in love and Republicans like to fall in line. I think post Kennedy, we have a real nostalgia, yearning, emotion towards that quality of a person in a leader. But I’m not sure I would say that’s not true. I think Reagan had a … Well, I know Reagan had a charm and a charisma and post the depression and the war, Roosevelt knew when he picked Eisenhower or whoever he was going to pick because it was between Eisenhower and Marshall. Roosevelt knew whoever that was, if they were successful in the war, that person was presidential timber.
Rahm Emanuel: And so the real question is not so much party as how much do the qualities of the character answer what the country is yearning for and seeking at that moment. So rather than just say Democrats want charismatic leaders and Republicans want milquetoast leaders. I don’t buy that as a partisan split. I think it’s Eisenhower in his qualities, his background, his experience and post the turmoil of both career and World War II and the depression, his grandfatherly image and his kind of presentation of leadership was what the country was yearning at that time. But by the time he was done, they were yearning for Kennedy.
Preet Bharara: The pendulum swings.
Rahm Emanuel: Yeah.
Preet Bharara: It was interesting that you brought up the Clinton line, Democrats fall in love, Republicans fall in line, now this year … So we’re recording this on Wednesday March 11th, by the time it drops, this pod drops, I suspect, I don’t want to get anyone annoyed, I suspect that Joe Biden will be the presumptive Democratic nominee. He cleaned up on Super Tuesday, he cleaned up yesterday. There are still some more contests to go. It seems this time around, is it fair to say, that the Democrats are so united in the interest of beating Donald Trump that they’re being as pragmatic as Republicans have been in the past and that they are falling in line rather than falling in love?
Rahm Emanuel: 80% yes. Here’s what I would say to you, is the Republicans’ history was the CFO became the CEO, the COO became the CEO and they kind of had this very corporate structure. And you could say Democrats because of the threat of Donal Trump, have slightly put aside their search for idealism in a very pragmatic approach to electability. And this was not a party that was going to be frivolous, and I’m probably going to get hate mail now when I say this, that in 1972, went to George McGovern. This is too important an election with the Senate up, the House up, the White House up, governorships up, State Houses up, that electability and victory was more with Trump, and I use that with a double montage over Donald Trump. You could say I am for Medicare for all but I’m voting for Joe Biden. That there would be things that you’re willing to forgive to get to a yes.
Preet Bharara: So let’s say Biden is the nominee and his opponent, as we all know, is ruthless and practices a lot of different behaviors. I don’t know if you could call them dark arts or lying arts or whatever-
Rahm Emanuel: I wouldn’t use the word arts. That’s an insult to arts.
Preet Bharara: It’s an insult to arts.
Rahm Emanuel: As a former ballet dancer.
Preet Bharara: What’s your advice to the Biden campaign in the general election? So I’ve asked this question of the variety of other people and I won’t tell you what their answers are, but how do you complete the sentence, made famous by Michelle Obama, when they go low, we go …
Rahm Emanuel: Well, my view is look, one of the things that I would be very clear … I wouldn’t let a single negative charge … This comes from Bill Clinton, after Michael Dukakis, Walter Mondale, not a single negative hit, negative charge goes unanswered. And I want to be clear is, I would say two things, one, we got to make sure Donald Trump has a rendezvous with his record. And if you look at what’s happening in the primary, you look at what happened in 2018, you look at what happened in 2019 in Kentucky, Louisiana, Virginia, Pennsylvania, et cetera, it’s clear the country doesn’t want to vote for Donald Trump’s policies, they don’t want to vote for him. 55% of the country is open to actually turning the page and we have to both offer them a vision of tomorrow and make sure that it’s him and his record that’s on a referendum on. And it is, but implicitly, he is going to try to turn it around and make you a referendum on you and your record. And we can’t give into that.
Rahm Emanuel: Second is I would also work the referees too. I think the press did a horrendous job on the emails in 2016. When you look at the Shorenstein Harvard report, it’s clear the amount of time and energy spent around emails amounted to a hill of beans, distorted the political landscape. And they have a job to be fair and level.
Rahm Emanuel: And third, they’re going to go low. When it requires to meet them where they are, great. And when it requires us to go high, great. I’m all for which one serves the interest of winning. Sometimes you meet them right where they are and beat the living crap out of them. And sometimes where they are provides you the opportunity to go above them. There’s no one tool in the toolbox. You’re going to use all your tools.
Preet Bharara: I’ve noted that we’ve been for a while and you haven’t cursed once. Are you being respectful of my audience who’s scatological preferences you don’t know?
Rahm Emanuel: Okay. I’m comfortable with four letter words. I would like one-
Preet Bharara: I know that. I was going to ask you about that.
Rahm Emanuel: Wait a second, you asked me a question so let me answer.
Preet Bharara: Okay.
Rahm Emanuel: Number one, all the scientific research shows that those of us that swear with some frequency have better mental health than those of you that are repressing. Number two-
Preet Bharara: That’s bullshit.
Rahm Emanuel: Okay. Good. That’s your radio show, not mine. So, I’ll give two funny stories. One, I think you would agree that I have appeared as a spokesman both as a mayor, a chief of staff and a member of Congress.
Preet Bharara: Yes.
Rahm Emanuel: Never once, on both, not only the floor of the House, on Sunday shows or any other shows or at any other press conference, have I ever sworn, ever, in my public role.
Preet Bharara: Why are you being so defensive?
Rahm Emanuel: I’m not being defensive. I’m proving a misperception. I don’t ever do it in public. Now number three, if you’re more comfortable, I’m more than willing to swear at you.
Preet Bharara: I don’t mind [crosstalk] don’t swear at me. You can swear around me.
Rahm Emanuel: I’m more than willing to swear at you. Now, here’s the other thing, so my wife’s family is Republican. They live in a suburb of Cleveland. I got an ethnic Jewish family, thus to say, they’re not. I’m the first and only Rahm Israel Emanuel they’ve ever met in their life. So I used to get done with the … When I was working for either President Clinton or President Obama, I would get done with the Sunday show and they would go. Mary, my mother-in-law would call to say, “Oh, you did so well.” I said, “Oh Mary, I didn’t do well. You were just happy for 15 minutes, you were worried that at the country club they were going to say, ‘Why did your son-in-law swear.’ You’re just like, thank God I got through another 15 minutes without a F bomb or something like that.”
Preet Bharara: Going back to how Biden should campaign, if they go low, and they will and they’ll attack Joe Biden and hunter Biden, should Joe Biden go after the Trump kids?
Rahm Emanuel: Well, here’s my view, it doesn’t have to only be Joe. All of us play a role and that is why is it only on Joe Biden? Why is it … If you’re going to sit there and dispatch the character of a family of a child, why is it only on Joe? Why don’t all of us have a role to call out the president? Now, again, I want to say to you is I’m for whatever works. There are some charges that require you ignoring them or going high and there are certain charges that you go right where they are and meet them and scare the living crap out of them.
Rahm Emanuel: And the idea that you’re going to do one or the other is a misnomer how campaigns happen. But all of them are in service of a goal of stating that we’re going to replace this division, this chaos, this constant conflict of making our politics our version of the WarGames, into something that’s better about us and making sure that we don’t get distracted from America’s challenges by his conflict but we start addressing what this is. President Clinton, in the worst moments of New Hampshire primary in ’92 said, “The hits on me are nothing like the hits your kids are going to take if we don’t turn this country around.”
Rahm Emanuel: And I would use that as my North Star here, which is whatever they throw at Joe, say this is an attempt to make sure you’re distracted from dealing with what are the big challenges facing you and your family and your children. And people will do a lot to the … I actually think one of the big things that are driving our politics today because we are in the middle of a middle class revolt, not a poor person’s populous revolt, is this is the first generation that thinks that their kids’ future is going to be less well-off than theirs. And that is driving a lot of the angst and anxiety. And we have to take his desire and attempt to turn one American against the other and use it to our advantage politically. And I’m not naïve by politics about how to give people an alternative of what this country can be and has been.
Preet Bharara: What was the tougher job for you? Chief of staff to a president or mayor of the City of Chicago?
Rahm Emanuel: Look, I think that … Here’s what I … Let me reverse, let me try to answer it this way. The mayorship offered highs that I’d never experienced in any other part of my job anywhere and lows that I also never experienced. So, it was at one level, the most rewarding in doing politics and public policy and it was the most tearing at your soul. I used to joke that the White House was family-friendly to the first family and everybody else got screwed. But I’ll give you this, when I created the Chicago Star Scholarship, which is a free community college for kids in Chicago, all you had to do was get a B average and we gave it to you.
Rahm Emanuel: We also gave it to kids that went to parochial schools as long as they were city residents, poor. If they got a B at a parochial school, they could go to one of our community colleges. Mainly set up for the public school. And we would do this, announce, “Preet, is going to become a Chicago Star.” And the family would come and we’d do what we call these ribbon or cords. And the joy in a parent’s eyes that you allowed them to be the parent they want to be, to give their kids a chance in an education.
Rahm Emanuel: At a book event two weeks ago, a mother came up with her son. He was both a Star student and now is a Star. Plus, he’s going to Colombia here in Chicago for photography for his junior and senior year. And she just came to say, “I wanted to come say thank you because I can see my son fulfill his dreams and it doesn’t burden me to do that.” And the joy in her … And she wanted to … It was a cold Friday night [inaudible] that is so emotionally and professionally rewarding.
Preet Bharara: Can I reinterpret your answer then to mean that the fact that you have that kind of gratification as mayor made that job in some ways a little less difficult than the more thankless job of being chief of staff to a president.
Rahm Emanuel: Well, you said difficult, thankless is … On the other hand, I have been at the side of a hospital bed with a mother and a grandmother of a young man who went a basketball park district facility and a young kid brought a gun. He was going to be going to freshman year of high school and was shot in the leg. And just all I have to offer is a shoulder. So it tears at you and it rewards you. And so, I’m lucky that President Obama picked me as his chief of staff and thought that I could help, et cetera. Proud of what I did by his side on his agenda. I loved being mayor in a way that I found a reward out of it that I could not as either chief of staff, congressman. But I also got to tell you, it can be pretty lonely too.
Preet Bharara: How important is the job of chief of staff to a president? And the reason I ask is because the next question is going to be what do you think of the selection of Mark Meadows and how will that change, if anything, the presidency?
Rahm Emanuel: Two things, Kennedy and Carter, bizarrely, both tried to do the job of chief of staff differently, meaning not have one, be their own chief of staff and both ended up … They couldn’t do it and they ended up picking a chief of staff who was empowered to be chief of staff. You could say in Carter’s point, it came too late in his presidency with Jack Watson after Hamilton, Carter.
Preet Bharara: So that would suggest it’s very important.
Rahm Emanuel: Yes. A president cannot be his or her own chief of staff. It’s essential to the well functioning White House. There’s a funny anecdote. So one day, I don’t know, in one of our wrap up session, President Obama was asking about some position in the Commerce Department. It’s like number fifth in the ring or something like that and I said, “We’re looking at so and so. We’ll have that … I’ll give you the name tomorrow. And he kept going and I said, “Look, Mr. President, one of us will be chief of staff and one of us will be president. You pick which job you want and I’ll take the other one. Okay?”
Rahm Emanuel: But that’s all a joke. He was great to work with, et cetera. That was a joke. But the thing is, it’s essential to the success of a presidency. Mark Meadows, I think a president, when you look at him, there are different stages of their presidency. In fact, just take my example. Given I came from Congress, I knew President Obama personally, I helped elect the majority in both ’06 and ’08 in the House and I’ve been to the White House, which was not true about President Obama or his team before. I brought certain skillsets that would not have been as valuable into the fourth year or fifth year of his presidency. And so I think chiefs of staffs are somewhat like a piano chord. You got to think about do they serve that moment in the president’s time.
Rahm Emanuel: I’m not sure going into the reelection, given that Mark Meadows has never been in the White House, given he doesn’t even know where the bathroom is, given his election has been in the Republican primary in a part of North Carolina, is fully up to speed with coordinating a government and a campaign and an intersection of those efforts when you’re still learning how to work the tools of a government. I’m not sure that’s the choice I would have made at this moment in time. But let me say this, thank God the president picked Mark Meadows.
Preet Bharara: Interesting.
Rahm Emanuel: That’s probably going to be unfortunately the headline of this entire interview.
Preet Bharara: One of many, and the lack of cursing. Going back to your book for a second.
Rahm Emanuel: Yeah, that would be helpful. We’re trying to produce sales here.
Preet Bharara: We talked a lot about your book in a lot of [crosstalk]
Rahm Emanuel: Hey man, you’re a little sensitive.
Preet Bharara: No. So let me put you on the spot for a second. You have a lot of praise for other folks, other mayors, including one Eric Garcetti, mayor of Los Angeles. Are you in any way disappointed he didn’t throw in his hat for the presidency?
Rahm Emanuel: Yeah. Eric knows that. Look, I think Eric had a lot to offer. I think he’s got a challenge on homelessness but all of us have challenges but I think he would have had a lot to offer to this field at the time. But I say a lot of nice things about Mitch Landrieu and he didn’t run and I think he would have offered a lot to this field.
Preet Bharara: How many nice things do you say about Bill de Blasio?
Rahm Emanuel: I think he’s pre-k piece was a very strong and good policy that kick-started a lot of things nationally. So, I’ll just leave it there.
Preet Bharara: Were you surprised by how well Mayor Pete Buttigieg did? And do you attribute any of that to these general theories you have about mayors?
Rahm Emanuel: I think that he did very, very well. He has clearly got a future. I said this before but I will repeat it, I think when you … He won Iowa, he didn’t get the normal bounce you got out of Iowa because of technical system breakdown. He had a good debate, not a great debate and yet he almost beat Sanders in New Hampshire. And the reason I think that happened is Biden runs this ad saying, “I’ve dealt with healthcare, I dealt with Iran, I dealt with … This guy cobblestone, streetlights.” And New Hampshire voters were, “Well, that sounds pretty good. I will just go for the streetlights and the cobblestones.”
Rahm Emanuel: And I actually think he’s mayoralty became an asset. I think Biden thought this attack was going to work, and if anything, he had underscored what people liked about Mayor Pete. He understood the government that touches our lives and that we rely on to go about our lives.
Preet Bharara: Do you think cities in this country that are not really romanticized in our politics, do they need to have better PR?
Rahm Emanuel: Well look, you have a president who’s attacking cities right now and using them as his political punching bag. If you look at, I don’t mean to be technical but if you look at the GDP of this country, the growth of this country, where it’s growing, it’s happening in cities. And that’s the premise of the book. I think a lot of people clearly by foot traffic, cities are having a renaissance at this point. Every city has, as I write in the book, there’s a promise to that city there’s a peril.
Rahm Emanuel: And leadership of mayors is about how do they double down on their strengths and then address those weaknesses so they don’t become overwhelming. But when you think about the economic intellectual and cultural energy of the world economy, I’m using this not numerically correct, about 100 cities in the world drive the economic, intellectual and cultural energy of the world economy. They’re pushing where the arts are, they’re pushing the creative culture that they have in their city. They’re pushing the policy boundaries of dealing with the educational divide, they’re pushing the economic kind of culture and environment and atmosphere that allow us to have the type of entrepreneurs that we are. And so I think the cities are at the center and part of this book is not only to look at it from a political science standpoint but then to also try to understand what this new urban politics is.
Preet Bharara: Was policing and dealing with crime issues in Chicago, the biggest challenge of your job?
Rahm Emanuel: I say it in … It was both … Yes. The headline. You say policing so look, one of the things that we constantly reduce public safety down to policing. It’s a big component then there’s the rest of the criminal justice system. Then it’s replacing despair with hope and opportunity. There’s a educational component to this, there’s a neighborhood uplift component to this, there’s a gun safety piece to this. And what we have to really get to is understanding that to deal with the issue of public safety. Police provide a component of safety that allows you to then work on all the other things that are essential for the sense of community. And if you don’t have opportunity, if you don’t have …
Rahm Emanuel: I mean, I’ve used this story before, which in Chicago is no different than New York or Boston or any of the other city. A child walking past a bunch of close shuttered neighborhood coffee shops, other types of retail internalize that into themselves. And a child walking by a new sidewalk with coffee shops, with residents in it and community residents in there and stores opening, where help wanted signs exist and lights are on and not gated and dark and closed, they internalize that. And public safety is a component of creating the environment that’s essential for that type of local economy and that type of a community to come together and be created.
Rahm Emanuel: So, police are a piece of it, gun legislation is a piece of it, a trustworthy criminal justice system is a piece of it, investments in neighborhoods that have been left behind is a component of it, an educational system that doesn’t become a pipeline to jail but a pipeline to the job and the economy is a piece of it. So there’s a lot of things that go into it. For me, it was one of the hardest things I worked on but I do see the … I’ve written about this both in my book and other places, a different a way of thinking of the public policy approach of policing.
Rahm Emanuel: And I think if we’re on the road of reform, there’s no getting off of it no matter what Donald Trump does in the justice department. And the FOP’s argument that every reform is a bad idea. It’s not viable. But I think if you’re going succeed in that reform and succeed at public safety simultaneously, because one of the hardest things to do is to both change a culture while you’re pursuing a policy or executing on a program. It’s better to do the reforms with your police rather than to your police.
Preet Bharara: And then the watershed moments that have happened in other cities and you write about in the book and I think I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask you about the shooting of an African American teenager named Laquan McDonald.
Rahm Emanuel: Yeah. Before Laquan McDonald, I was the first and only city that ever paid reparations for police actions. It’s called the Burge case. Never been done by another city, it happened way before I was mayor because I thought it was important to bring closure. I was first city also to ask the ACLU to voluntarily come in and analyze what we were doing with a federal judge oversight and to making sure our policing was done appropriately.
Rahm Emanuel: I thought we had dealt with the issue. The depth of the distrust was deeper than I appreciated. And once that happened, I then went in front of the full city and the full city council and dealt with issues and spoke about issues that the six prior reforms over the last 100 years that Chicago attempted, no mayor has ever said. I dealt with the code of silence, I addressed it. I dealt with the notion that parts of our city, children are taught to keep two hands on a steering wheel and other kids are not, tells you how much distrust there is. Things that have never been said. But I think we’re on the road of reform.
Rahm Emanuel: I think we’ve also … And superintendent Johnson and I, we did so many, what I call focus groups with community residents, police officers. And then community and police together, we came up with I think the right … Not only set up policies but the right outlook to do it. Work on this together and bringing reform with our police not to them. There was no doubt that we were never going back or sliding back, but bringing them along because it’s one thing to put policies in place but you also want to then create a culture that is conducive to that change.
Rahm Emanuel: And the real thing when you’re making changes, are you doing it where people see change as a friend or as a foe? And I used to always say to President Obama, “People hate the status quo. They’re not too excited about change either.” And so that’s the hard part of the-
Preet Bharara: It totally depends on when. It depends on what the status quo is.
Rahm Emanuel: Okay.
Preet Bharara: Do you have any advice for Joe Biden if he’s the nominee, as to who he should pick to be the vice president?
Rahm Emanuel: If I have it advice, I’m going to give it to him.
Preet Bharara: Any categories? Any sort of general principles?
Rahm Emanuel: Remember what President Clinton always said.
Preet Bharara: Yeah.
Rahm Emanuel: Don’t stop thinking of tomorrow. Elections are about the future, not the past.
Preet Bharara: Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the book is The Nation City: Why Mayors Are Now running the World. Thanks so much for giving your time.
Rahm Emanuel: Thank you.
Preet Bharara: The conversation continues for members of the CAFE Insider community. To hear the Stay Tuned bonus with Rahm Emanuel and get the exclusive weekly CAFE Insider podcast and other exclusive content, head to cafe.com/insider. Right now you can try a CAFE Insider membership free for two weeks at cafe.com/insider. Well, that’s it for this episode of Stay Tuned. Thanks again to my guest Rahm Emanuel. If you like what we do, rate and review the show on Apple Podcast or wherever you listen. Every positive review helps new listeners find the show. Send me your questions about news, politics and justice. Tweet them to me @preetbharara with the hashtag, #askpreet, or you can and leave me a message at 669-247-7338, at 669-24PREET. Or you can send an email to Stay Tuned at cafe.com. Stay Tuned is presented by CAFE. The executive producer is Tamara Sepper, the senior audio producer is David Tatasciore and CAFE team is Julia Doyle, Matthew Billy, David Kurlander, Calvin Lord, Sam Ozer-Staton and Geoff Isenman. Our music is by Andrew Dost. I’m Preet Bharara, stay tuned.