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Wednesday, May 18, 2022

White House nominates Rahm Emanuel for ambassador amid Afghan news

President Joe Biden formally nominated former mayor of Chicago Rahm Emanuel to be US ambassador to Japan on Friday afternoon amid the deluge of stories about the continuing chaos unfolding in Afghanistan.

Mr Emanuel had a history of being an old party hand long before his electoral career, having served as an aide in the Clinton administration, a congressman from Illinois who ran House Democrats’ campaign arm, and as Barack Obama’s first White House chief of staff.

During that time, he built a reputation for his hard-charging and aggressive attitude, often filled with expletive-filled rants. But over time, this also meant he infuriated not just Republicans, but also Democrats who now control his fate as they hold a majority in the Senate.

When he worked on Bill Clinton’s first presidential campaign, Mr Emanuel’s job was mainly to raise money. But he also agreed with Mr Clinton’s more centrist economic messaging, which means he might be out of line with a Democratic Party that has moved left economically in recent years.

Similarly, he was also criticised by some after the 2008 financial crisis triggered by the housing bubble for serving on the board of Freddie Mac.

While he was a Democratic congressman from Illinois, Mr Emanuel was also chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which is responsible for electing Democrats and frequently clashed with the then-Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean.

Mr Dean wanted to pursue his so-called “50-state strategy” to be competitive in every state, while Mr Emanuel wanted a more targeted approach to places where Mr Emanuel was competitive. Eventually, many credited Mr Dean with winning not only majorities in Congress in 2006 but also laying the groundwork for the 2008 Obama campaign victory, making the former Vermont governor a darling of progressives.

But after 2008, it was Mr Emanuel, not Mr Dean, who went to the White House to become Obama’s White House chief of staff. During that time, he frequently frustrated progressives for negotiating too much with conservatives and moderates. He also frustrated members of the Congressional Black Caucus.

His loose tongue also landed him in trouble when he called liberal groups the r-word as a slur.

But Mr Emanuel’s biggest controversy came when he left the White House and became mayor of Chicago. During his 2014 re-election campaign, Laquan McDonald was shot 16 times and killed by police, but Mr Emanuel sought to prevent the dashcam video from being released.

In 2018, Mr Emanuel said he would not seek re-election. When Mr Biden was elected, he was floated as a potential Secretary of Transportation or US Trade Representative. But progressives like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez criticised the move and little came of it.

“Rahm Emanuel helped cover up the murder of Laquan McDonald,” she said. “Covering up a murder is disqualifying for public leadership.”

Earlier this year, when it was speculated he might become ambassador to Japan, Rep Jamaal Bowman of New York, a member of the “Squad” that includes Ms Ocasio-Cortez, criticised the idea.

“Rewarding Rahm Emmanuel’s cover up of Laquan McDonald’s murder with an ambassadorship is not an act that reflects a value of or respect for Black lives,” Mr Bowman tweeted back in May.

When the White House made its formal announcement, Mr Bowman again criticised Mr Emanuel.

“The last thing we needed to see at the end of this tragic week is this,” he tweeted. “When elected officials use their power against Black lives, they should not receive this honor.”

Of course, Mr Emanuel needs to be confirmed by the Upper Chamber in Congress. But Democrats control only 50 seats and would need all votes, as well as a tie-breaker from Vice President Kamala Harris. A former partisan operative like him will probably not get much support from Republicans and only a few Democrats need to defect to sink his nomination.


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