WASHINGTON (AP) – The fatal police shooting of a black teenager in Chicago seven years ago weighs heavily on former city mayor Rahm Emanuel as he seeks confirmation as ambassador of President Joe Biden in Japan.
Several lawmakers and Liberal House activists complain that Emanuel’s handling of the death of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald, who was shot 16 while fleeing police, should have disqualified him for a coveted role. They consider that the appointment is not in line with the values ââof an administration which declares that “comprehensive and meaningful reform of the police” is a priority.
Emanuel’s administration refused to release the police on-board video of the murder to the public for more than a year and not before being forced to do so by a state court. He then apologized for his handling of the situation, which sparked weeks of mostly peaceful protests in the country’s third largest city after the video was released.
Emanuel is due to appear before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday for his confirmation hearing, which takes place on the seventh anniversary of the McDonald’s murder.
Emanuel’s reputation for sharp elbows – developed over nearly 40 years in national politics as a member of Congress and senior advisor to Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama – is also part of the backdrop as he tries to demonstrate that he has the temperament for international diplomacy, especially in protocol-minded Japan.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki fended off criticism on Tuesday, saying “Biden’s commitment to police reform speaks for itself.”
At the same time, he selects and appointed a series of ambassadors to serve the United States abroad because of their qualifications, whether they come from business, public service or other reasons that make them. would make them qualified for those positions, âPsaki said.
If confirmed, Emanuel will be Biden’s main envoy to Japan at a time when the two countries seek to strengthen ties as their common adversary, China, has strengthened its position as an economic and national security competitor. in the Pacific.
The White House is convinced that Emanuel will be confirmed by the Senate despite strong criticism from several allies of the president in the liberal wing of the party, whose members do not vote on the confirmations.
So far, none of the Senate Democrats have publicly declared that they will vote against Emanuel. The White House also expects him to gain the support of several Senate Republicans, including some who served with him during his tenure in the House from 2003 to 2009.
Senator Bill Hagerty, R-Tenn., Who served as former President Donald Trump’s ambassador to Tokyo, is expected to introduce Emanuel to the committee.
Among Democrats most critical of Emanuel’s appointment are New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who called the choice “deeply shameful” and Representative Cori Bush of Missouri, who called the Senate “to do the right thing and block his appointment.
The NAACP chief and a number of police reform activists also spoke out against the appointment of Emanuel, who was also vying to be Biden’s transportation secretary.
The release of the McDonald’s video – which showed the teenager shot multiple times as he fled from police – led the city to make a series of changes to policies on police cameras, the use of force and training. Months before the video’s release, the city agreed to pay the McDonald’s family a $ 5 million settlement.
Jason Van Dyke, the officer who shot McDonald’s 16 times. was convicted of second degree murder, 16 counts of aggravated assault and sentenced to six years and nine months in prison. The episode strained Emanuel’s relations with the city’s large black community.
Ahead of the hearing, eight black members of Chicago’s city council who were allies of Emanuel during his tenure and former deputy mayor wrote to the foreign relations committee, congratulating Emanuel for extending the day for the city’s public schools. and for taking other steps that have benefited long- neglected black neighborhoods.
McDonald’s great-uncle, Reverend Martin Hunter, also wrote to the committee on behalf of Emanuel, saying he had “inherited a deeply flawed system” on police investigations that tied his hands.
“There is more to this individual than the caricature presented to the public,” Hunter wrote in the letter, which was obtained by The Associated Press.
After leaving the mayor’s office, Emanuel was a strong supporter of Biden’s success in the White House and served as a political analyst on television. He also earned $ 13 million, most of his work as a senior advisor to investment banking firm Centerview Partners Advisory Holdings, according to financial reporting documents.
In Chicago, a group of activists called on the Senate on Tuesday to reject Emanuel’s appointment, noting that in addition to McDonald’s shooting, his tenure as mayor had been clouded by the closure of dozens of public schools and several mental health clinics in majority minority neighborhoods such as the city faced a budget crisis.
As he stepped down, the city was mired in more than $ 30 billion in unsettled retirement debt owed to city workers, much of it inherited from Mayor Richard M. Daley’s previous administration.
“I live in the aftermath,” said Chima “Naira” Ikoro, activist and writer from the South Side of Chicago. âThere are students who have been displaced and who have never returned to school because of this man.
Norman Solomon, national director of liberal organization RootsAction.org, said his group was helping coordinate a letter-writing and phone-call campaign urging lawmakers to vote against Emanuel’s appointment.
Solomon also criticized the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Robert Menendez, for hosting Emanuel’s confirmation hearing on the anniversary of the McDonald’s murder, saying it shows that many Democrats were in a “bubble without an idea”.
Reverend Ira Acree, a civil rights activist in Chicago, said Biden’s decision to reward Emanuel with an ambassadorial post was disappointing.
“What he did was commit an unforgivable political sin,” Acree said of Emanuel. “But the president and the Democratic Party seem to want to reward him for his influence, for what they perceive to be his great political acumen and his extraordinary ability to raise funds.”
If confirmed, Emanuel would follow a long line of prominent political figures who were sent to Tokyo by the Democratic and Republican presidents. The list includes former Vice President Walter Mondale, Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield, John F. Kennedy’s daughter Caroline Kennedy and President Ronald Reagan Howard Baker’s chief of staff.
Diplomacy, however, has not always been Emanuel’s strong suit. His former boss Obama admitted during the re-election campaign for mayor of Emanuel that he could sometimes pass for “a little stubborn”.
Emanuel once sent a dead fish to a pollster whose job he was unhappy with and was legendary for his blunt – and often rude – style of communication.
Yuko Nakano, a Japanese analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said that although Emanuel has limited foreign policy experience, Japanese officials are delighted that Biden wants to send someone with Emanuel’s profile to lead the mission to Japan.
âHis experience in the White House and in Congress with the decision-making process is a very attractive aspect to the Japanese,â Nakano said. “These qualifications outweigh the fact that he is not an expert on Japan, or even an expert on foreign policy for that matter.”
Associated Press writers Darlene Superville in Washington and Sophia Tareen in Chicago contributed reporting.