Following is the unofficial transcript of a CNBC EXCLUSIVE interview with White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel today, Tuesday, April 28th. Excerpts of the interview will air during CNBC's "Street Signs" (2PM-3PM ET) and CNBC's "Closing Bell" (3PM-5PM ET). The full interview will air tonight at 8PM ET on "CNBC Reports" and will be available online at CNBC.com.
All references must be sourced to CNBC.
JOHN HARWOOD, host: Congressman, thanks so much for being with us.
Former Representative RAHM EMANUEL: Thanks, John.
HARWOOD: You were a big shot in the White House before Barack Obama even had a political career. Then you were his friend coming up in Chicago, and you were colleagues in the Congress. Now you work for him.
Mr. EMANUEL: Mm-hmm.
HARWOOD: Talk about how your relationship with him has changed.
Mr. EMANUEL: I work for him. It's a lot different. And in the sense that it's his presidency, it's his agenda. My job is to see it through. I give him, as we were as friends as well as colleagues, the best advice. I'm not--then I was, you know, a member of Congress, he was a senator. We worked a lot on a lot of different things--on alternative energy, savings agenda, different items. We did lobbying reform together in a sense of reforming that entire lobbying code as existed. But--and in that sense I gave him advice. But he took it or didn't take it. Same exists now. He takes it or not. But I'm responsible, I think, for giving him honest advice, both the good and the bad. But it is his presidency, the way he wants the White House to run, the way he wants to communicate, etc.
HARWOOD: Can't be his friend so much anymore?
Mr. EMANUEL: I don't think I--I don't--you know what, let me say this. This is--let me try to do the answer this way, OK? Friendship requires a dual sense of loyalty. And I do feel a sense of his own loyalty. But I--ultimately it's a hundred percent loyalty from me to him. And so I think it's smarter, where we are friends and we are friendly. But the type of friendship we have is two colleagues together, it has to be different because I work for him. It's just natural and it should be. I would expect that. And I would want that as a chief of staff to the president of the United States.
HARWOOD: Your job as chief of staff in part...
Mr. EMANUEL: In the sense of you don't want the friendship to blind what you--is the mainstay of the relationship.
HARWOOD: One of your jobs as chief of staff is to manage all of the people around him, people from Chicago who have long relationships with him, you've got the czars in the White House, you've got Cabinet secretaries.
Mr. EMANUEL: Mm-hmm.
HARWOOD: Talk about how difficult it is to keep order in that process, and I'll give you one example. You have Tim Geithner as the Treasury secretary. Larry Summers has held that job. How do you make sure that Larry Summers doesn't interfere, say, with what Tim Geithner wants to do, what the people doing health policy want to do? How do you--how do you ride herd on that?
Mr. EMANUEL: Well, two things. You know, first of all, as I joke in the White House, nobody's a czar. The reason is czars weren't good to my people, so I really don't like the title anyway. You're ahead of an effort to coordinate both the policy, the politics, the legislation in a kind of interagency effort, be that on energy or health care, which is two spaces, you talked about, that we've added.
Second, one of the things I'm most proud about in helping the president see through--not most, but proud of--it shouldn't get big recognition. But if you compare it in, as you noted in the first question, that I worked in the President Clinton's White House, this White House is not and has not experienced or had the kind of generational difference we had under President Clinton, who was kind of the young turks, of which I myself was--and Paul Begala and others--vs. what were considered then the adults, not really steeped in politics, etc. We didn't have the kind of new Democrats--we don't, rather, have the kind of new Democrats vs. traditionalist split that existed in that White House. We don't have in this White House the president vs. vice president staff divisions that have been in other White Houses. I think part of that is, A, the tone and tenor that the president of the United States has set in expectations, the way I have also done it as the chief of staff, responsible for directing the staff.
And then third, I think everybody involved has been involved at some portion of their life in public service. They know the moment in time they're working in this White House it will be the piece of history that they will always take with them. Every White House is historic, but this is a--I mean, we--I think we all would agree that this is an exceptional moment in America's history. It's at a fork in the road. And given that, the kind of disputes--`Oh, I wasn't invited to this meeting' or `That person's got more attention than I,' `I've worked on this,'--that hasn't happened. And in addition, I mean, I try to always make sure, like, and the president does, when--like when we passed the Recovery Act, though I spent a lot of time on it and was a lead person, Phil Schiliro, legislative affairs director was a lead person. Peter Orszag at OMB, Rob--and I will tell you this. I--any one of those people, I would take them in any private sector position I've ever been in and any public sector position. They're outstanding.
HARWOOD: How about that Summers-Geithner relationship? How is that working?
Mr. EMANUEL: It's working very well. I mean it. It's working very, very well. We meet every day in my office. We just left the meeting. One of the reasons I'm running a little late is we met in our office, we do it every day, going over what a sense of the economic plans or what we have going on, and it's going very well. And obviously--but the good news is it's not going well because it's, you know, it's just everybody agrees. It's going well because we're having a healthy debate and an agreement on--the choices we are making, they're not--you know, President Kennedy used to say governing is not choosing between bad or worse, it's--choosing between good and bad, it's between bad and worse. These are tough choices. And you try to weigh the equities. And we're having a healthy debate, and we're not personalizing the healthy debate. That's the good news.
HARWOOD: One other comparison with the Clinton White House. You worked in a White House with a very strong first lady.
Mr. EMANUEL: Mm-hmm.
HARWOOD: I heard she tried to fire you at one point. Talk about how it's different now with Michelle Obama, who is also a strong first lady.
Mr. EMANUEL: Yeah. I mean, well, every--well, it's like this. Every president brings their own stamp to the presidency, every first lady brings their own stamp to their position and their role. And, you know, Michelle and the president were friends, obviously, of Amy and myself, and her first and foremost is--role she sees is to her family. And, you know, that--everything else is a distant second.
HARWOOD: Let's talk...
Mr. EMANUEL: You can observe--I mean, everybody can observe that and see that.
HARWOOD: Let's talk about 100 days. Clearly Barack Obama's doing very well in the polls.
Mr. EMANUEL: Mm-hmm.
HARWOOD: The American people like him. But what would you say to someone who said one accomplishment that you've had is, for reasons that are well understood and it started before you became president, we've gone further down the slippery slope to government having a 50 percent stake in GM, according to the bond offering; likely after the stress tests to have a larger stake in major financial institutions. What would you say to the complaint that we're moving more toward a role that government shouldn't play and isn't well equipped to play?
Mr. EMANUEL: Well, I think I would start on the affirmative. Ultimately, what has made the economy dynamic and strong is a--both--kind of we're a country of rule of law. There's a transparency to it. There's also a--this is, you know, more in the kind of feeling a entrepreneurial spirit, kind of, and that goes back way in our history. That is what has made America's capitalism the most dynamic economy its style. It has always had generations of I think improvement on its basics. And what do I mean by that? We're in a period of time of defining that relationship between the private sector of the economy and the government. The ultimate...
HARWOOD: And the role of government's getting a lot bigger.
Mr. EMANUEL: But--it is getting bigger, and that is but a transitional time. It's--it is not a permanent nor a desire--let me just be clear. It's not a desire of the president that it be permanent. But...
HARWOOD: When could it--well...
Mr. EMANUEL: We got to get back to a--we got to get to a position both in the--mainly auto and financial, but back to a position where know you can stand alone and be ongoing operation that doesn't require either government assistance or guarantees to get that. That's desired, the sooner the better, from our perspective. But for the stability of the overall economy, you're--the moment requires that. I think what you define, and if you go back through histories of different stages, A, governments have made, at key stages, key investments.
I don't want to do--if I can, I know you want a short answer, but I actually enjoy this as sort of a philosophical one. A, regulation in a sense of transparency, accountability, has grown as the economy gets more complicated. One of the moment problems we've had here, at this moment, in time is the regulation and the rules of the road did not keep up with dynamism of the economy, specifically in the financial. That has had a ramification.
Two, if you look back at history, at every stage in which we've had a major war there's been a major investment in America to make sure that the sacrifices made would come home for greatness. Just finished Stephen Ambrose's book on the Civil War, but on the transcontinental--investment in the transcontinental rail and the landmark colleges under Lincoln. Before World War II was over you have the GI bill, let alone other types of investment work done. At the height of the Cold War, Eisenhower invested in the interstate highway system and Kennedy, in the challenge, puts a man on the moon. You could mark that down historically. We're at that moment in time. We have obviously two wars going on, hot wars. One in Iraq and Afghanistan. But the investments in America in its own economy, be that its physical infrastructure, its human capital, has been denied. And that is also historical at this moment in time. You make those investments so that America's economy can grow for the next stage it is...
HARWOOD: When Barack Obama finishes his first term...
Mr. EMANUEL: Thank you for--thank you for letting me try to get that in in two minutes.
HARWOOD: When Barack Obama finishes his first term, will the United States government still have a huge stake in General Motors, in major financial institutions?
Rep. EMANUEL: John, if I could predict that I'd be, you know, sitting in that chair, not here. The desire, I think, is what's important. It's--the goal is--you know, the president's desire is not to have more at stake in individual private companies, it's to stabilize these either industries or companies so they can make this transition to a different place. And...
Rep. EMANUEL: ...obviously the ideal would be the sooner, as I said, the sooner the better that we're out of it we'd like to do it. I think for the overall economy you have to have--be--banking industry and financial industry turn to the government at that particular time, having spent basically 20 years with the philosophy of shunning government, and I think we all paid a price for any role...
HARWOOD: Now some of those firms want to get out of it, and you don't want them to get out of it now.
Rep. EMANUEL: They would like--look, as I said, we want to--we don't want to be involved in the business--in the private sector or individual companies. We have to stabilize the markets so they can then go on and prosper on their own.
HARWOOD: Let me ask you about Wall Street. You know the financial industry well, you've made a lot of money in the financial industry. As you advise the president, as you think about it in your own head...
Rep. EMANUEL: Uh-huh.
HARWOOD: ...how do you separate out the parts of the financial industry that should be honored because they're smart, because they contribute to productivity, because they help the economy, and the parts of the populist argument that there's a lot of self-dealing and corruption and sleaze. How much of that argument do you consider really true?
Mr. EMANUEL: Well, the financial sector has played a--and that's writ large, it's not just the banks in New York. There's private equity is made up of the financial services industry that has played, no doubt, parts of it at certain different stages, a key role in the competitiveness of the American economy. It can have--like everything in life, what's good can have excesses that turn into being its weakness rather than its strength. The financial services industry, which includes insurance companies and includes others, is a important part of America's economy and its growth. That growth, without some sense of the rules of the road, can clearly flip over and become an excess that is, you know, I don't want to say harmful, but can have a negative role on the economy.
You--the--I think the public's--this is analyzing where the public is upset. The public's sense is that over a long period of time, the financial services industry had high reward. They've now had a major impact for their--I don't want to say mismanagement, for lack of--lack of accountingforf the risks that they were taking. They turned to the public sector, that is, i.e., the taxpayers, to bail them out, and yet want no change in any--either their business model or their compensation. Before the compensation was a direct result, they said--think of it from the public's perspective--the public--their compensation is a direct result because of their innovation and what they've added to the economy. Yet, when there's a downside to that and then the entire economy's been put at risk because of their failure to account for risk, they want none of the changes that should come from that either in business practice, compensation, or business model. And the public says you--heads I win, tails I lose. And I've talked to a number of people in the financial industry--and I say that writ large, not just banks--who understand there's a--there's just not a common sense to that. It's--American people have a pure sense that you get rewarded for success. They're having a little trouble with the reward for having failed.
HARWOOD: One of your jobs as chief of staff is to help the president figure out when you can declare victory on an issue, even if you don't get everything you want. Two particulars: Can you have a successful outcome on health care if you have not dramatically expanded coverage, if you have a piece of legislation that focuses on cost reduction? And can you have a successful and transformative energy policy without putting a price or limit on carbon emissions?
Mr. EMANUEL: Well, the way I'm going to answer that, John, is to go back with what the president said when we were passing the Recovery Act: Don't make perfect the enemy of the essential. And he said that in the Recovery Act, and key moments in the negotiation he made that clear in the--when we were negotiating this budget I think we're on the doorstep of passing, which will be, I note for you, as a blue--economic blueprint, will have happened in record time with record vote.
That said, he has--his principles are very clear. On health care, controlling costs, so you don't have health care costs accelerating at three times, on average, inflation. On energy, weaning ourselves not only from independence on foreign oil, but most of all, if we do the energy policy right it will be the greatest job growth we'll see in our country in a long time. His goals are clear. He's willing to explore different roads to get to those ends.
HARWOOD: He mentioned in his speech the other day the role of nuclear power and oil drilling. Are those going to be part of a final energy package?
Mr. EMANUEL: The greatest--you're going to stay tuned as we outline it. I'm not going to tell you--as we do it. But he has said, and you can go point to what he has said, John, in the past, which is you have to have a comprehensive policy and a comprehensive approach. You just can't lean. You have to have enough emphasis on efficiencies. That was de-emphasized, and we've paid a price for that. Be that in home appliances, transmission, across the board. We don't--in autos, where we're better on mileage. We are not as effective in our efficiencies as we should, that--there's a lot of savings to be had there.
Second, investments in alternative energy; starting industries and companies that will be dramatic job producers in the future and catapult America back to its natural lead in innovation.
And third, there are sources. You know, in Illinois we come from a state that has a heavier than normal dependence--average, heavier, or greater dependence on nuclear than others. He has said in the past, nuclear's part of that. He has said I'm--he doesn't believe drilling is a solution, but he is open to it. What that composition is across the board you'll see as we draft the legislation.
HARWOOD: You know the House of Representatives in Congress better than most White House chiefs of staff. And you were known, when you were successfully leading the Democratic effort to win Congress, for saying no to the left where necessary as you were trying to win seats in parts of the country where the left isn't popular. Talk about how you work with leaders on the Hill, Nancy Pelosi in particular, to try to get them to accept your formulation that the perfect can't be the enemy of the good?
Mr. EMANUEL: Well, I think you got to look at the results. We've passed the largest economic recovery act in American history that helped us on the--on the--both--hopefully will help us stabilize the economy and help us produce jobs. Everybody had a vision what they would like. In the end of the day, we produced what would get the job done. There are things that were not in it that we'd like,, there were things that were in it and that were strong in the sense of alternative energy, making sure there was reforms in health care, making sure that we were training the work force for the future. And the speaker, you know--and you're--pausing here, I--we'll have a discussion, she is fundamentally a pragmatic, put points on the board, get wins. I think the question--and I've just always I get asked, you know, left vs. center, etc. The question isn't really a philosophical one of left vs. center. The question is are we moving forward or backwards?
HARWOOD: Hm. Republicans say that...
Mr. EMANUEL: And I tell you that...
HARWOOD: ...you're giving in to Pelosi and the left by pursuing health care under reconciliation rules that will jam them and limit their role. They say that you're going to war against them. What do you say about that?
Mr. EMANUEL: I said this joke the other day with the president, which is that reconciliation in the rest of America means you come together. Only in Washington does it mean you get divided. And the fact is the president sat in a bipartisan meeting last week and said, `Provide the ideas. We're--we want your ideas.' Second, he started a health care conference, as you remember, at the White House, that brought Democrats, Republicans, governors, mayors, doctors, hospitals, lawyers, consumer groups, nurses, everybody at the table. That's his approach: Contribute your ideas, come to the table constructive. Don't worry about a process that starts on October 15th. What are you doing on May 15th? What are you doing on June 15th? What are you doing on July 15th? What are you doing on August 15th? What are you doing on September 15th? We have a lot of time. Use that time productively. Don't worry about October 15th, when reconciliation would or wouldn't happen. You have a lot of time right now to figure out how do we control costs, how do we expand the pool of coverage so we can also control costs and how do we make sure we have a system in place so America does not have a health care system that's driving businesses, families and the government out of money?
HARWOOD: Swine flu. It was a formative experience for many in Washington to see the crisis response in the case of Katrina for--and it was very hurtful to President Bush. Talk about, as we sit today, what are the risks as you assess them that this will actually become a catastrophe in the United States in which a large number of people will lose their lives, or do you think it's not that big of a deal?
Mr. EMANUEL: Well, first of all, there's, as you know, the head of the Department of Homeland Security and CDC are responsible for communicating on this. We did a communication on both a Sunday briefing at the White House and also the president spoke to it yesterday at the National Academy of Science. And every day, I think, for the process, at 1:00 the CDC down--the Center of Disease Control and the White--down in Atlanta will be speaking, and at 3:00 at the Department of Homeland Security will have presentation both by the director of Homeland Security as well as from the national security staff, John Brennan. I'm--I think--I know, John, that's a fair question, but I think this is very sensitive at this moment. I think you have a public health concern. That's first and foremost. And also that impacts on the rest of the economy. I think the key thing is those who observe this notice that we're ahead of where we should be in the sense of making sure the public knows you have to spread it, say yesterday, `Be alert and sensitive.' We're not in the--I want to be not technical. I want to be careful, though, how you use the words. We have to be alert to this. It's not in the sense I think you used, or if you didn't at least I heard...
Mr. EMANUEL: ...the sense of a crisis. But what you got to do is take the steps to avoid type of that--that type of crisis. I read John Barry's book on influenza of 1918. I think it's a very good book, read a number of other books on this. They obviously go in stages, as he makes--Mr. Barry makes clear in the op-ed today in The New York Times. In 18--1918 you had kind of a spring kind of early warning, it recedes, and then it comes back with a force in the fall. The good news, and I think you know this, one of the first pieces of legislation Senator Obama passed was dealing with the funds, at that time, for the flu. We have an infrastructure and capacity that I think John Brennan outlined on Sunday at the White House.
HARWOOD: It sounds like you think the risks of a--of a full-blown crisis are minimal at this point.
Mr. EMANUEL: I think we got to take certain steps that are necessary, both the federal government, the state and local governments, families, hospitals, etc. You have to do that. And I think that will mitigate the potential for exactly that.
HARWOOD: Two things quickly before I let you go. You're known as a volatile guy, bit of a Roman candle with a temper. What's the angriest you've gotten in the first 100 days?
Mr. EMANUEL: That I had to do this interview right in the middle of everything else. I mean--no. Well, you know, first of all, as you all know, both of us have different images and we think that we're different than our images. I don't have, in my view, a volatile temper. What I have is an ability and a desire to drive to a conclusion so I can get the president what he wants. There are times you're frustrated by other people, I think, in the process, who have their own equities at stake and a sense of underlining those equities. I get--what is--in the sense of angry, I don't think that's the emotion I would describe. I've gotten frustrated and let my frustration be known, and remind everybody there's a bottom line, and that is the president of the United States in getting what he wants done for the country in a time frame he wants to get it done.
HARWOOD: How about when you heard about that flyover of the Air Force plane around the Statue of Liberty yesterday that so upset people in New York? When did you first hear about that? Did you approve it? And what was your reaction to it after it happened?
Mr. EMANUEL: I let the individual know that--and I'm going to keep it at that, which is how I manage the White House. It's not a public piece that you'll see it. The individual responsible knows what I think, and that's what's important. And as soon as I found out, I had a discussion with them.
HARWOOD: You did not approve it before it--what was the highest level at which it was approved before it happened?
Mr. EMANUEL: You know, why don't we talk about the economy, don't worry about that? Because I had a conversation with the individual and I--everybody's responsible for their area. The person responsible I had a conversation with.
HARWOOD: But no senior White House official approved that flyover?
Mr. EMANUEL: John, the person responsible in the White House for it is--put a statement out saying they took responsibility.
HARWOOD: That was Caldera.
Mr. EMANUEL: Yeah. And I had a conversation with him immediately when I found out.
HARWOOD: But that was the highest level that it was approved before?
Mr. EMANUEL: Yes. He--in the statement, as he said yesterday, he takes responsibility. It was his decision. He and I had a conversation. The way we run the White House, everybody's accountable for what they're responsible for that happens under their ZIP code and their address.
HARWOOD: Right. You know that a lot of people in New York have a hard time understanding how that could ever have happened.
Mr. EMANUEL: I--sure, I see that. Part of management, having run through a number of places...(unintelligible)...is making sure that people know individual responsibility and accountability, so there's no collective sense of nobody's accountable. Lou runs that office, that's why he put the statement out yesterday of taking responsibility, which I think was a good thing for him to do. Because I think one of the things that American people don't see enough from their government is people who step up and say, `Hey, that was mine. I own that.'
HARWOOD: Thanks so much for talking with us.
Mr. EMANUEL: Sure.
HARWOOD: Appreciate it.
Mr. EMANUEL: I'm really late guys?
Unidentified Person: Is Arlen Specter switching parties?
Mr. EMANUEL: I'm not--I'm not--I'm not going to answer that.
Mr. EMANUEL: I'm not going to answer that.
HARWOOD: Arlen Specter switching parties? Did you--Arlen Specter is now becoming a Democrat? Do you welcome that development?
Mr. EMANUEL: Well, he--first of all, it's--I've only heard rumors, like other people, like I say, exactly like your person that just came here, put a scheme over. Obviously, if somebody decides to become a Democrat, that'll be welcome news.
HARWOOD: And if you get Al Franken, you have 60 votes and they can't filibuster anything you're doing, correct?
Mr. EMANUEL: Think of the good news. A lot more people will be sitting in this chair than me.
HARWOOD: Thank you.
Mr. EMANUEL: All right.
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