Emanuel to take hot seat in Senate confirmation hearing

Emanuel to take hot seat in Senate confirmation hearing
© Associated Press-M. Spencer Green

Rahm Emanuel will face senators on Wednesday for a confirmation hearing on his nomination to serve as U.S. ambassador to Japan, which will put the former White House chief of staff in the hot seat over his record. 

Already the hearing is being overshadowed to a degree by the fierce opposition to Emanuel from progressives over the police shooting of Laquan McDonald in 2014. The then-Chicago mayor was accused of suppressing footage of the shooting until after his reelection bid had concluded.

“We fully expect the McDonald case to be brought up at tomorrow’s hearing,” a Senate aide told The Hill, adding that “multiple senators” will bring it up.


“This hearing will get a lot of attention. I’m not sure it’s going to be contentious, but I would not expect the committee to rubber stamp this nominee,” the aide added.

While the hearing is likely to be controversial and Emanuel may face opposition from progressives on the panel like Sens. Ed MarkeyEd MarkeySenators seek to curb counterfeit toys and goods sold online Senate GOP blocks defense bill, throwing it into limbo Equilibrium/Sustainability — Presented by Southern Company — Pledged money not going to Indigenous causes MORE (D-Mass.) or Jeff MerkleyJeff MerkleySenate GOP blocks defense bill, throwing it into limbo Lawmakers call on Olympic committee to press China on human rights abuses Senate Democrats call on Biden to push for COVID-19 vaccine patent waivers at WTO MORE (D-Ore.), officials believe he may be bailed out by support from establishment Democrats and even some Republicans.

The White House has stood by the pick, pointing to Emanuel’s years of government service.

“The president nominated Rahm Emanuel to serve as the ambassador of Japan because he is somebody who has a record of public service ... and he felt he was somebody who could best represent the United States in Japan,” White House press secretary Jen PsakiJen PsakiUS expected to announce diplomatic boycott of Beijing Olympics soon: report Joe Biden: The Brian Williams presidency Biden plan for free at-home tests faces hurdles MORE said on Tuesday when asked about how much weight Biden put on the handling of the police shooting when he decided to nominate Emanuel.

Psaki said that she didn’t have any records of Biden speaking with Emanuel since his nomination, and she pointed to the president’s commitment to working on policing reform when asked whether Emanuel was out of step with the administration’s values because of the McDonald case.

Emanuel was an aide in the White House and on the campaign trail for former President Clinton and served in Congress, where he helped build a Democratic majority in the mid-2000s. He left Congress to serve as former President ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaBiden on Bob Dole: 'among the greatest of the Greatest Generation' Moving beyond the era of American exceptionalism The bully who pulls the levers of Trump's mind never learns MORE’s chief of staff, and left that job to serve two terms as mayor of Chicago.

The Senate has been slow overall to confirm the president’s nominees. Biden’s allies in Congress, including Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiUS expected to announce diplomatic boycott of Beijing Olympics soon: report Pressure grows to remove Boebert from committees Lawmakers remember Bob Dole: 'Bona fide American hero' MORE (D-Calif.), Sen. Dick DurbinDick DurbinFour questions that deserve answers at the Guantanamo oversight hearing Senate dodges initial December crisis with last-minute deal Conservatives target Biden pick for New York district court MORE (D-Ill.) and House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.), have supported Emanuel’s nomination. 

Sen. Bill Hagerty (R-Tenn.), who served as ambassador to Japan during the Trump administration, spoke “numerous” times with Emanuel in the lead-up to his hearing. The talks were productive, and Hagerty was candid about the challenges Emanuel would face if confirmed, the senator’s spokesperson said.

Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsPhotos of the Week: Schumer, ASU protest and sea turtles Real relief from high gas prices The Hill's 12:30 Report: Biden to announce increased measures for omicron MORE (R-Maine) has also indicated she would be supportive of Emanuel’s nomination, allowing for Emanuel to survive a Democratic defection or two in the 50-50 Senate.

Many Senate Democrats have been quiet about their position on Emanuel prior to the Senate hearing. 

On Wednesday’s panel is Sen. Cory BookerCory BookerMaternal and child health legislation must be prioritized now Poll: Harris, Michelle Obama lead for 2024 if Biden doesn't run Five reasons for Biden, GOP to be thankful this season MORE (D-N.J.), a top negotiator in Congress on police reform legislation. Booker’s office didn’t respond to a request for comment on his position on Emanuel. 

Merkley told constituents in a letter before Emanuel was officially nominated that he is aware of concerns over the former mayor’s record.

“I have heard from Oregonians who are concerned about certain aspects of Mr. Emanuel’s record during his tenure as Chicago’s mayor, in particular his administration’s response to the tragic shooting of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald,” the Oregon Democrat wrote.

His office denied a request for further comment on his position on Emanuel’s nomination. 

Markey’s and Sen. Brian SchatzBrian Emanuel SchatzCongress should reject H.R. 1619's dangerous anywhere, any place casino precedent Alabama Republican touts provision in infrastructure bill he voted against Telehealth was a godsend during the pandemic; Congress should keep the innovation going MORE’s (D-Hawaii) offices also did not respond to requests for comment on the senators’ stances on Emanuel’s nomination.

The hearing will take place on the anniversary of the police shooting, which occurred in Chicago on Oct. 20, 2014. A spokesperson for Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezFive ways Senate could change Biden's spending plan Spending bill faces Senate scramble Republicans raise concerns over Biden's nominee for ambassador to Germany MORE (D-N.J.) did not respond to a request for comment on that decision. 

The committee is also vetting the nominations of Nicholas Burns to be ambassador to China and Jonathan Kaplan to be ambassador to Singapore during the hearing on Wednesday.

Several progressive groups rallied outside the Chicago Police Department headquarters on Tuesday, urging lawmakers to “Reject Rahm,” citing his handling of the McDonald case. Roots Action, a group that has organized opposition to Emanuel’s nomination, said it has gotten more than 40,000 individuals to send emails to representatives urging them to reject the pick.


Biden, when he nominated Emanuel, faced fierce criticism from liberal House members, who have called on senators to reject the nomination.

Reps. Cori BushCori BushOmar to accept award Saturday as American Muslim Public Servant of 2021 House progressives urge Garland to intervene in ex-environmental lawyer Steven Donziger's case The real 'threat to democracy'? Pols who polarize us with their opinions MORE (D-Mo.) and Mondaire JonesMondaire JonesMcCarthy delays swift passage of spending plan with record-breaking floor speech House Democrats brush off Manchin Buffalo race becomes early test for a divided Democratic Party MORE (D-N.Y.) said Emanuel “helped cover up the brutal murder” of McDonald and called the decision to nominate him “not only professionally and politically indefensible, but personally offensive.”

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezPressure grows to remove Boebert from committees Kevin McCarthy is hostage to the GOP's 'exotic wing' Hospitals in underserved communities face huge cuts in reckless 'Build Back Better' plan MORE (D-N.Y.) said at the time that Emanuel’s handling of McDonald’s shooting should be “flatly disqualifying for any position of public trust, let alone representing the United States as an ambassador.”

Emanuel was also under discussion to lead the Transportation Department before Biden named Pete ButtigiegPete ButtigiegThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Congress avoids shutdown Harris's office undergoes difficult reset The Hill's 12:30 Report: Biden to announce increased measures for omicron MORE for the post. 

After leaving the mayor’s office in May 2019, Emanuel served as a senior adviser to the investment banking firm Centerview Partners Advisory Holdings. He disclosed that he earned almost $13 million as part of the paperwork filed for his nomination to be the ambassador to Japan.

The White House was questioned on Monday over what Biden is hoping Emanuel will bring to the table when it comes to strengthening U.S. ties with Japan. 

“I think he’s hoping that he will bring his commitment to public service and broad experience in policymaking to have a strong position in Japan from the United States,” Psaki said.