Key Players Watch

By Dan Froomkin
12:54 PM ET, 02/23/2009

Ryan Lizza profiles White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel in the New Yorker: "He is a political John McEnroe, known for both his mercurial temperament and his tactical brilliance. In the same conversation, he can be wonkish and thoughtful, blunt and profane....

"His task has been made no easier by Obama's desire for bipartisanship, which Emanuel argues the press has misunderstood. 'The public wants bipartisanship,' he said. 'We just have to try. We don't have to succeed.' Still, he insisted, they have been succeeding. All Obama's other major accomplishments to date—winning approval for three hundred and fifty billion dollars in additional funding for the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), passing the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, expanding S-CHIP, signing an executive order to shutter the detention camp at Guantánamo Bay and a memorandum to increase the fuel efficiency of cars—were supported by at least some Republicans. The G.O.P., Emanuel said, decided that opposing the stimulus 'was definitional, and I will make an argument to you, both on political and economic grounds: they will lose. I don't think the onus is on us. We tried. The story is they failed.'"

Lizza writes that "the atmosphere of crisis is now so thick at the White House, any moment of triumph has a fleeting half-life." And here's a memorable detail: On Emanuel's desk is a small screen "that looks like a handheld G.P.S. device and tells Emanuel where the President and senior White House officials are at all times." How's that work?

(Salon blogger Glenn Greenwald calls Lizza's profile "so reverent, one-sided, and glorifying that it is hard to believe it wasn't written by Emanuel himself." Greenwald adds: "[T]here is an intense competition underway to see who will get to be this administration's Bob Woodward -- the semi-official royal court spokesperson who is given constant access in exchange for good behavior.")

Newsweek's Howard Fineman profiles Emanuel's brother, Zeke, a medical ethicist who has just taken a key role advising the budget director.

Anne E. Kornblut writes in The Washington Post about Emanuel's deputy, Jim Messina: the "Fixer."

Michael Scherer profiles Press Secretary Robert Gibbs for Time, and he writes that the press briefing has become "a good place to take the ambient temperature of the busiest White House in a generation."

Michael Hirsh and Evan Thomas find some signs of a "new" Larry Summers, Obama's chief economic adviser.

And NPR's Mara Liasson talks to senior adviser David Axelrod, who "describes his role as the keeper of the Obama brand....

"It's a more narrowly defined role than his predecessor, Karl Rove, played for President Bush.

"'Karl's aspirations were different than mine,' Axelrod says. 'He wanted to build the Republican Party for years to come. I'm not belittling that. My role is more circumscribed, and I'm not looking to run the Democratic Party from the White House. I just want to help the president be successful, and that's what I'm here to do.'"

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