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Rahm Emanuel Makes the Right Move on Colombia Trade Deal


Rahm Emanuel Makes the Right Move on Colombia Trade Deal

By John Nichols, The Nation

11 November 2008

This column has expressed plenty of concern about the selection of Illinois Congressman Rahm Emanuel to serve as President-elect Barack Obama’s chief of staff. Emanuel, whose record and reputation are those of a rigid "New Democrat," was the pointman for the Clinton White House’s free-trade agenda. And, in Congress, he has been a reasonably steady supporter of the Bush administration’s trade policies.

The fear with regard to Emanuel’s selection was that he might try to impose his pro-Wall Street politics on an administration that has promised to serve Main Street.

The hope, detailed in a column last week, has been that Emanuel would put his own ideological tendencies aside and use his considerable political skills to help Obama implement a more pro-worker, pro-environment agenda on trade policy.

Perhaps fittingly, at least for this initial stage of America’s Obama moment, hope has won out over fear.

In an appearance Sunday on ABC’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos, Emanuel offered a signal that he intends to carry the Obama program forward — as opposed to the Emanuel program.

The chief-of-staff told his fellow Clinton-White House alumnus that the Obama transition team will oppose any effort by the Bush administration to attach the Colombia Free Trade Agreement to an economic stimulus package in order to get the approval of the Bush Administration.

In his final debate last month with Republican John McCain, Obama made it clear that he opposes a deal with Colombia, a country with a tragic human rights and labor rights record. But, since the election, President Bush and his aides have been suggesting that their "price" for advancing a new stimulus package might be inclusion in that package of the Columbia FTA.

Emanuel was blunt and specific in expressing opposition to the Bush blackmail, arguing that it was essential to avoid creating policy conflicts that might slow the work of extending unemployment insurance and providing healthcare assistance to economically-embattled states.

"You don’t link those essential needs to some other trade deal," explained Emanuel. "What you have to deal with is what’s immediate here, and the lame duck is for immediate things that are important. That’s what should be the focus, right now. There’s an economic recovery package in front of the Congress. Washington should get it done."

John Nichols is The Nation’s Washington correspondent.