Former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s nomination as ambassador to Japan passed the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Wednesday morning, but a pair of fellow Democrats voted against his appointment.
Progressive Sens. Jeff Merkley of Oregon and Edward Markey of Massachusetts asked to be recorded as ‘No’ votes on Emanuel as the committee took a single vote to approve 14 ambassador nominations at once.
During Emanuel’s confirmation hearing last month, Merkley sharply questioned Emanuel on his handling on the Laquan McDonald police shooting as mayor, and cited the McDonald case Wednesday as the reason for his ‘No’ vote.
“Black Lives Matter. 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,” Merkley said in a statement.
Markey did not offer an immediate comment about his vote.
Emanuel’s nomination now moves to the full Senate for final consideration, where the opposition of Democrats will mean the former mayor will need the support of Republicans to be confirmed. President Joe Biden’s administration has expressed confidence that Emanuel will be confirmed.
So far, five Republican senators have voiced support for Emanuel — moderate Sen. Susan Collins of Maine; retiring Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri; Sen. Lindsay Graham of South Carolina, a top ally of former President Donald Trump; Sen. Bill Hagerty of Tennessee, who was ambassador to Japan under Trump; and Sen. James Risch of Idaho, the ranking Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee.
Hagerty introduced Emanuel during his confirmation hearing last month and Risch voiced his support for the former mayor before Wednesday’s vote.
“Mayor Emanuel and I disagree about most of our politics, but we agree that Japan is the cornerstone of our Indo-Pacific strategy, and it is our greatest asset in the strategic competition with China,” Risch told the committee.
The Senate is split 50-50 between the two parties, with Vice President Kamala Harris serving as the tiebreaking vote when necessary. High-profile progressive Sens. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts have not said how they will vote on Emanuel’s confirmation.
Several progressives in the House, which has no role in confirming ambassadors, have voiced opposition to Emanuel, including U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, who has called the former mayor’s nomination “deeply shameful.”
Many big-name establishment Democrats, however, have backed Emanuel, including former President Bill Clinton, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Majority Whip James Clyburn, the highest-ranking Black member of Congress.
In his confirmation hearing last month, Emanuel both defended and expressed regret over his handling of the police shooting of McDonald. Emanuel said he should have better recognized the lack of trust citizens held for the Chicago Police Department and pushed for stronger reforms more quickly.
The former mayor, however, also did not specify what he would have done differently in his response to the shooting and sidestepped questions about when he learned specifics about the incident.
Those questions came from Merkley, who pressed Emanuel for details on when he was briefed about the shooting, but ultimately was cut off by Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Menendez after going four minutes over his allotted time.
“I have carefully considered Mayor Emanuel’s record — and the input of civil rights leaders, criminal justice experts, and local elected officials who have reached out to the Senate to weigh in — and I have reached the decision that I cannot support his nomination,” Merkley said in his statement. “While I respect Mayor Emanuel’s many years of service and the points of views of my colleagues who have come to a different conclusion, I will be voting ‘No.’”
Emanuel’s nomination was opposed by the president of the NAACP, various activist organizations and a group of nine progressive aldermen and four lawmakers from Chicago. Emanuel countered with letters of support from nine Black aldermen, the former president of the Chicago Urban League and McDonald’s great uncle, the Rev. Marvin Hunter.
“There is more to this individual than the caricature that is presented in the public,” Hunter wrote about Emanuel in his letter to the Foreign Relations committee. “I felt what is in his heart, and I know him to be a decent and honorable man who is willing to listen, eager to learn and show a deep level of compassion.”
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