President Joe Biden appears ready to go to the mat to appoint former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, once a formidable Democratic operative and top adviser during the Obama administration, despite expected pushback from the party’s left-wing faction.
Sources close to the discussions told The Hill that the president is looking to nominate Emanuel to be the U.S. ambassador to either Japan or China, though the former is the more likely choice for former President Barack Obama’s chief of staff. The outlet said Biden’s frontrunner for ambassador to China is former State Department official Nicolas Burns.
While bringing Emanuel back would certainly raise his profile and once again make him a formidable figure within the Democratic Party, doing so is also politically risky given the baggage he brings with him as the former mayor of the country’s third-biggest city.
While in Chicago, Emanuel was badly criticized, including by many Democrats, for his handling of the shooting death by police of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald in 2014. The shooting occurred during Emanuel’s reelection campaign; he was accused by progressives of covering it up until after he secured victory.
Video footage released after Emanuel’s victory shows a police officer shooting McDonald 16 times as the suspect held a knife. Chicago police officers had said McDonald was coming at them at the time he was shot but the video shows him actually walking away at the time.
The incident outraged left-wing progressives who said the incident helped tank his approval in black and Hispanic communities.
Shortly after the Nov. 3 election, reports surfaced that Emanuel was being considered for a lesser role within a Biden administration including Secretary of Transportation. But even that produced pushback from leftists including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.).
“What is so hard to understand about this? Rahm Emanuel helped cover up the murder of Laquan McDonald. Covering up a murder is disqualifying for public leadership,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) tweeted at the time. “This is not about the ‘visibility’ of a post. It is shameful and concerning that he is even being considered.”
What is so hard to understand about this?
Rahm Emanuel helped cover up the murder of Laquan McDonald. Covering up a murder is disqualifying for public leadership.
This is not about the “visibility” of a post. It is shameful and concerning that he is even being considered. https://t.co/P28C0E4fYP
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) November 23, 2020
Newly-elected Rep. Jamaal Bowman of New York, another far-left Democrat, added: “Rahm Emanuel should not be considered for any position within the Biden administration.”
Rahm Emanuel should not be considered for any position within the Biden administration. https://t.co/OO1t2n1EI9
— Jamaal Bowman (@JamaalBowmanNY) November 23, 2020
“If Rahm gets nominated he will have staunch allies, but he will have critics on the left and the right,” one source, a former aide to Biden, told The Hill.
Still, Emanuel has remained close to Biden, according to sources, which is likely why he’s being considered for a diplomatic posting that, for some previous ambassadors to Japan, has served as a springboard for higher political office including presidential bids.
There have been some who question why Biden would send a political ally to such an important post as he is attempting to shift away from former President Donald Trump’s ‘America first’ diplomacy, though the U.S. and Japan enjoyed a solid relationship over the past four years.
Others have said that the relationship Emanuel has with the administration and the president is more important.
“The argument for appointing Rahm or any political veteran is they’re going to have easier access to the president and senior leaders at the White House,” Brett Bruen, once director of global engagement under Obama, said. “But Biden has promised that he’s going to elevate and trust diplomatic experience. So that shouldn’t be a problem in this administration.”
Nevertheless, The Hill notes that Emanuel’s confirmation hearings in the Senate are probably going to be contentious. Though he’s a former congressman as well and likely has allies on Capitol Hill, his tenure as Chicago’s mayor will be a source of controversy for both Democrats and Republicans.