Mayor Rahm Emanuel told talk show host David Letterman on Monday that Congress should “make sure America stands tall at this moment” by backing President Barack Obama’s push for military intervention in Syria.
“This is not an easy choice,” acknowledged Emanuel, who likened the White House effort to build support on Syria to selling the nation on bailing out the auto industry during Obama’s first term.
The comments came during a 15-minute appearance spread over two segments on “The Late Show" in which Emanuel talked about city violence, the chief of staff's role in the White House and even did his impression of former President Bill Clinton.
Letterman poked at Chicago's nationwide reputation for gun violence. "What I hear about Chicago now is 'Oh, don't go to Chicago, the violence is unbelievable.' Now, tell us why people say that," Letterman asked.
Emanuel laughed before making a joke: "Well, first of all they're watching CBS and you late at night," Emanuel said.
Then he turned to his oft-cited statistic that overall shootings are down about 25 percent in Chicago this year. Left unsaid by Emanuel on the program was that homicides remain stubbornly high in Chicago compared to many other major American cities, with 53 murders in August compared to 59 in the same month last year, following a July that saw 48 killings, a drop of just two from the same month in 2012. The first six months of the year had seen an improvement over last year's spike in homicides that led to the unflattering national headlines.
Emanuel also turned on Indiana, Letterman's home state, saying lax gun laws there lead to firearms finding their way into Chicago. Emanuel later called for universal background checks.
Emanuel’s appearance was timed to coincide with the release of a Wednesday and Thursday Discovery Channel documentary on presidential chiefs of staff, “The Presidents’ Gatekeepers,” in which Emanuel talks about his time in that role for Obama.
Emanuel said the modern White House chief of staff has evolved from President John F. Kennedy forward. The mayor also recapped what he has said was a difficult decision to join the Obama administration: he was on a fast track in Congress, had already served in the Clinton White House and wondered about moving his family. Ultimately, Emanuel said, he decided that when the president asks, you serve.
He described the chief of staff gig as the "most intense job you'll ever have" and offered some advice: don't walk in to the Oval Office with a problem unless you've got two or more solutions.
Both Clinton and Obama wanted to hear the honest truth, Emanuel said, but responded differently to it. According to the documentary, Clinton had a short fuse, Letterman said.
That provided a segue for Emanuel to take a sip of water and do his Clinton impression.
Later, Letterman asked if Emanuel wished he was with the president to help rally Syria support. That gave Emanuel a chance to launch into his common refrain that “being mayor is the greatest job.”
The host chided Emanuel for doing a little hometown re-election politicking from a sofa in New York. “If you weren't campaigning, would you rather be with the president right now?” Letterman asked to studio audience laughter.
“First of all, I'm not campaigning for 16 months, and the answer to that is still ‘no,’” Emanuel replied.
Earlier, Letterman reminded the rest of America that Chicago had been run by a certain family for many years, asking, “What happened to the big powerhouse Daley regime?”
“Your American history is really unbelievable,” said Emanuel, who added it was “time to get the city moving and on a new chapter” when he took over from Richard M. Daley.
Emanuel was coy when Letterman asked what he might like to do next, saying he “was thinking of this late-time talk show thing, what do you think?”
Obama will address the nation Tuesday on military intervention after Syria’s apparent use of chemical weapons. “I think the Congress of the United States should make sure America stands tall at this moment,” Emanuel said.
The mayor joined comedian Ricky Gervais and R&B musician Janelle Monae.