Senate confirms Rahm Emanuel to be ambassador to Japan

Rahm Emanuel
Associated Press-M. Spencer Green

The Senate during a rare middle-of-the-night session confirmed Rahm Emanuel to be President Biden’s ambassador to Japan. 

Senators voted 48-21 early Saturday morning on Emanuel’s nomination. Democratic Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore) voted against his nomination. 

“Rahm Emanuel has a lifetime of public service preparing him for this role. Japan is an important strategic partner in Asia, particularly in light of our continued challenges from China.  I have no doubt Rahm will be a strong voice for America in Japan,” Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said after the vote. 

The vote on Emanuel’s nomination came shortly before the Senate wrapped up its work for the year. It was included in a package of nominees approved in exchange for giving Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) a vote on legislation related to the Nord Stream 2 pipeline by mid-January. 

Emanuel is well-known around Washington. Before being elected as mayor of Chicago, Emanuel served as then-President Obama’s chief of staff, a member of the House of Representatives and worked in the Clinton White House. 

But Emanuel had sparked pushback from progressives because of his handling of an investigation into a police shooting of Laquan McDonald in 2014 when he was Chicago mayor. Some House progressives urged Senate Democrats to reject Emanuel’s ambassador nomination. 

Emanuel addressed the controversy during his confirmation hearing, saying “there’s not a day or a week that has gone by” that he hasn’t thought about McDonald’s death, but defended his actions at the time as trying not to prejudice the judicial process.

Both Markey and Merkley opposed his nomination earlier this year during the Foreign Relations Committee vote. Merkley announced in a statement that he was doing so based on “the input of civil rights leaders, criminal justice experts, and local elected officials.”

In a 50-50 Senate, progressive opposition could have sunk Emanuel’s nomination if he didn’t pick up GOP support. 

But he cleared the Foreign Relations Committee with the help of Republicans. GOP Sens. Roy Blunt (Mo.), Susan Collins (Maine), Chuck Grassley (Iowa), Bill Hagerty (Tenn.), Ben Sasse (Neb.), Dan Sullivan (Alaska), John Thune (S.D.) and Todd Young (Ind.) voted for him on the floor early Saturday morning. 

Hagerty, who previously served as ambassador to Japan, said that while he and Emanuel have different political backgrounds, Emanuel shares “my unwavering conviction that the U.S.-Japan relationship is the cornerstone of peace and prosperity in one of the most strategically important regions of the world.” 

“I believe strongly that this position has remained vacant for far too long, which is why it was a priority for me to help confirm a nominee,” he said. 

Tags Ben Sasse Biden ambassador nomination Biden nominees Chuck Grassley Dan Sullivan Dick Durbin Ed Markey Elizabeth Warren Jeff Merkley Joe Biden John Thune Roy Blunt Susan Collins Ted Cruz Todd Young

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