Rahm Emanuel Pressed on Teen’s Shooting in Confirmation Hearing
(Bloomberg) -- Ex-Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel sought to defuse progressive opposition to his nomination as President Joe Biden’s ambassador to Japan, denying any cover-up in a 2014 police shooting but acknowledging he misjudged distrust within the Black community.
Emanuel, a former congressman and chief of staff to President Barack Obama, said he never sought to delay the release of camera footage showing 17-year-old Laquan McDonald’s death at the hands of a police officer on Oct. 20, 2014, though he said efforts he later made to bolster police accountability didn’t go far enough.
“I thought I was addressing the issue, but I clearly misjudged the level of distrust and skepticism that existed, and that’s on me,” Emanuel said Wednesday at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “Those changes were inadequate to the level of distrust.”
The controversy around Emanuel’s nomination was unusual given that the most vocal opposition to his taking up the post has come from the Democratic left, including New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and others who say his selection is out of step with the Biden administration’s professed commitment to police reform.
Anticipating voices of dissent, Democratic Senator Robert Menendez, the committee’s chairman, offered Emanuel the chance to address McDonald’s death before opening the floor to questions from other senators.
Emanuel -- famous for his quick temper and use of expletives -- was subdued throughout the hearing. He sought to justify the delay in the release of the police camera footage, saying he didn’t want to prejudice an investigation into events surrounding McDonald’s death.
“The moment a politician makes a unilateral decision in the middle of an investigation, you politicized that investigation,” Emanuel, 61, said.
With only two Republicans even addressing the hearing, the most pointed questions came from Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon, who pressed Emanuel over his insistence that he hadn’t known what happened the night of McDonald’s shooting until the video footage was released months later.
In the evenly divided Senate, Emanuel’s confirmation may ultimately depend on the help of Republicans like Senators Bill Hagerty of Tennessee and Susan Collins, the Maine Republican who voiced support for his nomination on Twitter in August. In another unusual turn of events, Hagerty, himself a former ambassador to Japan, introduced Emanuel and said he’d support the nomination.
“I welcome him today and I intend to provide him with the bipartisan support that I was fortunate to receive from this committee,” Hagerty said. “A critical post like this deserves no less from a qualified and capable nominee.”
Emanuel shared the hearing stage with technology businessman Jonathan Kaplan, the Biden administration’s nominee to be ambassador to Singapore. Once questions in the hearing began, the main focus shifted to China’s activity in the Indo-Pacific region.
“Our alliance advances our shared interests and shared values,” Emanuel said, speaking of Japan. “China aims to conquer through division. America’s strategy is security through unity. That regional strategy is built on the shoulders of the U.S.-Japan alliance.”
Whatever the disagreements over his performance as Chicago’s mayor, Emanuel is the sort of nominee -- well-known personalities, former legislators and businesspeople -- whom past presidents have tended to send to Japan. Japanese officials have said the job is too important to go to a career foreign services officer, instead calling for individuals with national stature and political influence who can get the ear of the president.
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