Former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s nomination to be President Joe Biden’s top envoy to Japan is being opposed by two Democratic senators, but Republican support could ultimately carry him to confirmation.
Emanuel’s nomination was approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Wednesday and sent to the Senate floor on a voice vote as part of a slate of nominees. Jeff Merkley of Oregon and Ed Markey of Massachusetts asked to be recorded as “no” on Emanuel’s nomination.
But Emanuel, who served as former President Barack Obama’s chief of staff, has support from several Republican senators, including Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Roy Blunt of Missouri and Jerry Moran of Kansas. Both Blunt and Moran served with Emanuel in the House. Committee Chairman Bob Menendez predicted that GOP support will help ensure confirmation.
Senator Bill Hagerty of Tennessee, who served as ambassador to Japan during the Trump administration, introduced Emanuel at his confirmation hearing last month.
“I think he will be a great ambassador,” Graham said. “He’s someone we can work with.”
Merkley said in a statement that he has “carefully considered” Emanuel’s record, including the input of civil rights leaders, criminal justice experts and local elected officials in deciding he can’t support the nomination. Emanuel also has drawn vocal opposition from progressives in the House over delays in the investigation into the death of a Black teen who was shot by Chicago police in 2014 when Emanuel was mayor.
Emanuel would need Republican votes to be confirmed in the 50-50 Senate if any Democrats withhold their support.
The White House on Wednesday stood behind Biden’s pick.
“President Biden chose Rahm Emanuel to be his ambassador to Japan because he knows that Rahm will bring the experience, the policy chops, the relationships and the work ethic to do an important job with a critical partner country,” White House spokesman Christopher Meagher said in a statement. “The president knows Rahm and has confidence in him, and believes that he will be a great representative in Japan.”
In saying he would vote against the nomination, Merkley pointed to Emanuel’s contentious track record on race relations as Chicago mayor.
“Black Lives Matter,” Merkley said. “Here in the halls of Congress, it is important that we not just speak and believe these words, but put them into action in the decisions we make.”
Emanuel has been assailed by progressives for his administration’s handling of the police killing of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald. It refused to release video from a dashboard camera for more than a year, until after Emanuel won a second term for mayor, prompting outcries.
At last month’s nomination hearing, Emanuel said he never sought to delay the release of the camera footage, though he said efforts he later made to bolster police accountability didn’t go far enough. He acknowledged he misjudged distrust within the Black community.
A number of Chicago officials wrote a letter to the Foreign Relations Committee calling the nomination a disgrace. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and several other progressives called on Biden to pull the nomination.
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