Senate Clears Rahm Emanuel as Japan Ambassador With GOP Help, Democratic Opposition

Democratic and Republican senators crossed party lines during the vote to confirm former Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel as ambassador to Japan early Saturday morning.

Ultimately, the Senate voted to confirm Emanuel 48-21. But several progressive Democrats decided against him, with some citing his record on civil rights.

The three Democrats were Ed Markey of Massachusetts, Jeff Merkley of Oregon and Elizabeth Warren.

Still, Emanuel gathered support from eight GOP senators: Roy Blunt of Missouri, Susan Collins of Maine, Chuck Grassley of Iowa, Bill Hagerty of Tennessee, Ben Sasse of Nebraska, Dan Sullivan of Alaska, John Thune of South Dakota and Todd Young of Indiana.

Progressives had earlier demanded that Emanuel—who also served in the House of Representatives and as White House chief of staff for President Barack Obama—not serve in the Biden administration.

Progressives point to the way his mayoral administration handled the police shooting of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald, shot by an officer 16 times in the back in 2014.

During Emanuel's administration, Chicago city lawyers fought to hide police dashboard camera footage of the shooting. Some progressives have accused Emanuel of trying to cover it up. A state court eventually compelled the release of the footage, and weeks of protests followed.

The White House has defended the nomination. Press Secretary Jen Psaki said President Joe Biden's "commitment to police reform speaks for itself."

Merkley first announced his plans to vote against Emanuel in November.

"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," he wrote. "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 to serve as a U.S. Ambassador."

Other progressives also slammed President Joe Biden over the nomination.

"What is so hard to understand about this? Rahm Emanuel helped cover up the murder of Laquan McDonald. Covering up a murder is disqualifying for public leadership. This is not about the 'visibility' of a post. It is shameful and concerning that he is even being considered," wrote Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York.

Among Republicans, Collins voiced support for the nomination in August, writing on Twitter: "President Biden has made two excellent choices for critical Asian ambassadorships, nominating Rahm Emanuel to represent the United States in Japan and Nicholas Burns in China. Both have the skills, intellect, and experience to represent American interests well."

Blunt told The Washington Post in September, "I haven't used the word 'diplomatic' in a sentence describing Rahm Emanuel very often. But in this case, I think he will meet that standard."

Hagerty, who previously served in the role, told The Chatanoogan he supported Emanual because he showed an understanding of "the challenges as well as the expectations, including his commitment to me to secure the timely release of Tennessean Greg Kelly from Japan's inhumane and so-called 'hostage justice system.'"

"I know first-hand that our new Ambassador's days will not be easy, but that he—along with his family—are up to the task and will be warmly welcomed by the people of Japan," he said.

Senate Confirms Rahm Emanuel
The Senate voted to confirm Rahm Emanuel as the next U.S. ambassador to Japan on Saturday. Above, Rahm is seen during an October 20 confirmation hearing. Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images