During a report on Thursday’s American Morning, CNN correspondent Alina Cho used personal anecdotes in attempt to show how Barack Obama’s Chief-of-Staff-designate Rahm Emanuel has “softened over the years.” Cho cited the outgoing Illinois congressman’s unnamed rabbi, who said he is “really just a nice guy, intensely spiritual, even polite.” She also stated how despite being labeled a “street fighter with a killer instinct,” Emanuel also has more of sensitive side: “His congressional colleagues say he’s the kind of guy who will chew you out then send you a cheesecake.”
A clip of comedian Andy Samberg doing an impression of Emanuel on Saturday Night Live preceded Cho’s report, which began 18 minutes into the 6 am Eastern hour of the CNN program. The correspondent began by bringing up Emanuel’s notorious use of “colorful language,” which Samberg parodied in his sketch. She also contrasted the “street fighter with a killer instinct” imagery with his rabbi’s “nice guy” label.
Cho later played two clips of Emanuel’s rabbi, whose name is never given. He described the Obama aide as “a very polite, well-liked, beloved person.” He also gave an account pointing to how religiously devout Emanuel is. Cho also related the prominence of Emanuel and his two brothers, with one being a “super Hollywood agent” and the other, “Zeek” (short for Ezekiel), who is a “Harvard-educated top oncologist at the NIH.”
Towards the end of her report, the CNN correspondent repeated the point of another unidentified associate of Emanuel, who sang his praises: “He gets the big picture, but he also sweats the details, and he is absolutely relentless.”
The full transcript of Alina Cho’s report from Thursday’s American Morning program:
ANDY SAMBERG, PLAYING RAHM EMANUEL (from Saturday Night Live): Hello. I’m Rahm Emanuel, one-time congressman of Illinois’s Fifth District and now White House Chief-of-Staff designate for President-Elect Barack Obama. I should say to anyone thinking about crossing me, I will (beep) end you. You will never even see it coming. One day you will be here and the next day you will (beep) disappear. I'm sorry. Did you (beep) say something? Are you (beep) sure? Yeah -- you better be (beep) sure.
KIRAN CHETRY: That was the Saturday Night Live impression. Andy Samberg playing Rahm Emanuel, the president-elect’s hard-charging and blunt chief-of-staff, and since Emanuel became a power on Capitol Hill, we heard a lot about his tough tactics, but there’s, of course, more to the man than meets the eye. American Morning’s Alina Cho is here with more on that.
ALINA CHO: You know the first -- he’s the first to say, you know, I have colorful language, and so do his brothers. It’s a bit of a problem in the family. Good morning, Kiran. Good morning, everybody. You know he’s been called a street fighter with a killer instinct. But talk to his rabbi, and he’ll tell you that Rahm Emanuel is really just a nice guy, intensely spiritual, even polite. His congressional colleagues say he’s the kind of guy who will chew you out then send you a cheesecake. All of this critical knowledge when you’re talking about the man who’s about to become the president’s gatekeeper.
CHO (voice-over): They don't call him ‘Rahmbo’ for nothing.
PRESIDENT-ELECT BARACK OBAMA: There are only so many ways to say I’m going to rip your head off.
CHO: Barack Obama’s chief of staff is famous for being in your face. But there’s another side to him.
UNIDENTIFIED RABBI: He is a very polite, well-liked, beloved person.
CHO: Rahm Emanuel? The man who reportedly sent a dead fish to a pollster? His rabbi says the Rahm he knows is different -- so devout that during the Jewish new year, one of the holiest days, when Orthodox Jews can’t make phone calls, Rahm Emanuel asked for a pass.
UNIDENTIFIED RABBI: Am I allowed to be on a conference call to help pass the bail-out, the $700 billion bail-out? And I told him, I asked him is that, is it a serious as we, you know as it’s made out to be? So he said yes, it is serious.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think that’s your phone.
CHO: On the hit show, ‘Entourage,’ character Ari Gold is based on super Hollywood agent Ari Emanuel, Rahm’s brother. And this character on ‘The West Wing’ --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have to work.
CHO: ... is said to be based on Rahm. In fact, the only Emanuel brother without a TV likeness is ‘Zeek,’ a Harvard-educated top oncologist at the NIH.
EZEKIEL EMANUEL, RAHM’S BROTHER: If you had looked at us in grade school and high school, you would not -- you know, you would not have predicted our success.
RAHM EMANUEL, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF DESIGNATE: You would not have (unintelligible) on the Emanuels. You would not get (unintelligible) short.
CHO: Before taking on politics, Rahm Emanuel studied ballet.
OBAMA: He learned to leap, he learned to spin, and he learned to splay his feet to the left and to the right, so no one knows which direction he’s heading in.
CHO: He also made $16 million as an investment banker after he left the Clinton administration.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He gets the big picture, but he also sweats the details, and he is absolutely relentless.
CHO (on-camera): And those contacts he made as an investment banker will serve him well as he helps to shape economic policy. And speaking of policy, those who know Rahm Emanuel well say he not only understands policy, he understands the politics as well. And one person said he gets the big picture, but he also sweats the details, and he will be very effective as chief of staff because of that, Kiran.
CHETRY: All right. A good inside look -- good to know he’s not exactly like the caricature outside the headlines.
CHO: Oh, they say he gets a bit of a bad rap, that he softened over the years.
CHETRY: Haven’t we all. All right. Alina, thanks so much.
CHO: You bet.