The full U.S. Senate is set to consider Rahm Emanuel’s nomination to serve as President Joe Biden’s ambassador — but if the former Chicago mayor is confirmed, it will happen without the support of at least two progressive Democratic senators.
Even as Emanuel’s nomination cleared the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday, the murder of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald by a Chicago Police officer in 2014 took center stage and clouded the Chicagoan’s return to the national political stage.
U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon) said in a statement that he could not support Emanuel’s nomination despite his many years of public service.
“Black Lives Matter,” Merkley said in a statement. “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.”
It is nearly unheard of for a senator to issue a statement rejecting a pick made by a president belonging to their own party.
Merkley was joined by U.S. Sen. Ed Markey (D-Massachusetts) in voting to reject Emanuel’s nomination. A spokesperson for Markey did not respond to a request for comment from WTTW News about his decision.
However, while dissenting votes from two Democratic members of the committee would be enough to tank nearly any other nomination made by Biden in the U.S. Senate, Emanuel’s bid to become the United States’ representative in Japan advanced with the support of several Republican committee members, including U.S. Sen. Jim Risch (R-Idaho).
One of the most progressive members of the Senate, Merkley was the only member of the committee to press Emanuel about how he handled McDonald’s fatal shooting during the former mayor’s Oct. 20 confirmation hearing.
Merkley suggested that it defied belief that Emanuel did not know that the dash cam video showed now-former Chicago Police Office Jason Van Dyke shoot McDonald 16 times, even as the teen moved away from the officers.
“It seems hard to believe that all those things happened and yet you were never briefed on the details of the situation when you were leading the city,” Merkley said, urging his colleagues to “weigh” Emanuel’s handling of the teen’s shooting death.
Progressive lawmakers in Chicago, Springfield and Washington, D.C. said Emanuel’s handling of the shooting and its aftermath made him unfit to represent the United States on the international stage.
During his confirmation hearing, Emanuel, who served as Chicago’s mayor for eight years, said he did not fully understand the depth of mistrust and anger felt by Black and Latino Chicagoans toward the Chicago Police, and acknowledged he struggled to respond to those concerns while protecting the integrity of the probe into the shooting.
“There’s not a day or a week that has gone by in the last seven years I haven’t thought about this and the what-ifs and the changes and what could have been,” Emanuel said. “A grave tragedy occurred seven years ago. And that tragedy sits with me, as it has, every day and every week for the last seven years.”
In addition to Markey and Merkley, U.S. Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Florida) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas) also opposed Emanuel’s nomination. Both are expected to consider running for president in 2024, and Cruz has blocked nearly all of Biden’s State Department nominees in an effort to object to the president’s foreign policy.
Five Republican senators including Risch and Sen. Bill Hagerty of Tennessee, a former ambassador to Japan, who introduced Emanuel at his confirmation, have said they will support Emanuel. U.S. Sens. Roy Blunt, of Missouri, Lindsey Graham, of South Carolina, and Susan Collins, of Maine, have also expressed support, according to The Washington Post.