After nearly 2½ years, Japan finally has a U.S. ambassador.
The U.S. Senate voted early Saturday to confirm former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who also served as chief of staff under President Barack Obama, as the country’s ambassador to Tokyo.
The decision to nominate Emanuel, known for his sharp tongue — and for having the ear of President Joe Biden — signals the importance the administration places on the U.S. alliance with Japan as Washington looks to confront the challenges presented by rival Beijing.
Officials in Tokyo have grumbled about the absence of a Senate-approved ambassador from the U.S. since William Hagerty left the post in July 2019.
The Senate held the vote around 1:30 a.m. in Washington, confirming the 62-year-old Emanuel 48-21, with a number of senators absent.
Prominent Democratic Sens. Jeff Merkley, Ed Markey and Elizabeth Warren all voted against Emanuel, while he garnered a number of votes from Republican senators, including Hagerty, now a Tennessee Senator, and Foreign Relations Committee chair Sen. Jim Risch.
Emanuel has faced withering criticism and charges of a cover-up over his handling of a white Chicago police officer’s killing of Black teenager Laquan McDonald in 2014.
The newly minted ambassador used his confirmation hearings to call the U.S.-Japan alliance “the cornerstone of peace and prosperity in a free and open Indo-Pacific,” adding that his top priority would be to deepen those ties — especially amid China’s growing assertiveness in the region.
“China aims to conquer through division,” he told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in October. “America’s strategy is security through unity. That regional unity is built on the shoulders of the U.S.-Japan alliance.”
Known for his bare-knuckle political confrontations, Emanuel — who once reportedly emulated a scene from “The Godfather” by sending his enemy a dead fish — will be an unusual fit in the more reserved and polite Tokyo.
Still, Japan is expected to be pleased with the confirmation, since Emanuel is known to have developed a close relationship with Biden while he was vice president under Obama, providing Tokyo with what could amount to a direct line to the White House.
As a former Obama administration official, he “brings an experience and policy chops to the job that he can hit the ground running,” the Chicago Tribune quoted an unidentified White House official as saying in August.
“There’s not a meeting in the Situation Room he wasn’t a part of when he worked as chief of staff,” the official said. “He has a deep understanding of how to get things done in the Capitol and long working relationships with Democrats and Republicans in Congress.”
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