Emanuel to take hot seat in Senate confirmation hearing

Rahm Emanuel
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 Markey (D-Mass.) or Jeff Merkley (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 Psaki 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 Obama’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 Pelosi (D-Calif.), Sen. Dick Durbin (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 Collins (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 Booker (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 Schatz’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 Menendez (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 Bush (D-Mo.) and Mondaire Jones (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-Cortez (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 Buttigieg 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.

Tags Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Barack Obama Bob Menendez Brian Schatz Cori Bush Cory Booker Dick Durbin Ed Markey Jeff Merkley Jen Psaki Mondaire Jones Nancy Pelosi Pete Buttigieg Susan Collins

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