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Former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel speaks during a news conference at the Chicago Police Department's 6th District station on August 6, 2018. (Photo: Joshua Lott/Getty Images)

Former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel speaks during a news conference at the Chicago Police Department's 6th District station on August 6, 2018. (Photo: Joshua Lott/Getty Images)

Arguments Against the Appointment of the Man Nicknamed 'Rambo' to the Post of U.S. Ambassador to Japan

The left wing of the Democratic Party has strongly opposed the appointment of Mr. Emanuel to the post of ambassador to Japan.

Koji Sonoda

The U.S.'s Biden administration is considering appointing as ambassador to Japan Rahm Emanuel (61 years of age), who was formerly chief of staff to President Obama, but the left wing of the Democratic Party is voicing furious opposition.

The main reason for their opposition is Emanuel's response, when he was mayor of Chicago, to the lethal shooting of a black teenager by a police officer. The confirmation of the ambassador's appointment is not yet certain.

"Whenever there is a split in the Democratic Party in terms of opinions between people on the left and conservatives, he always sides with the conservatives," according to former associate professor (in journalism) at Ithaca College, Jeff Cohen, who has been studying Emanuel's political career for many years.

Emanuel, a Jewish-American from Chicago, came to prominence in the 1992 U.S. presidential election as the head of the finance committee for the Democratic Party's Clinton campaign. He joined the administration as a senior administration official, and in that capacity played a key role in the Senate's approval of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), but also took a tough stance on illegal immigration and welfare policies.

His relationship with the former president Obama goes back many years as they were both politicians who had a foothold in Chicago. When the Obama administration was launched in 2009, he was promoted to Chief of Staff to the President, served as his closest aide and right-hand man who advanced the administration's interests with a take-no-prisoners approach. His aggressive political style has earned him the nickname "Rambo."

Mr. Cohen says that "Obama, who is a centrist, probably thought that the appointment of Emanuel would balance the leftist faction of his party. Emanuel has continually warned Obama about the political risks of the health care system reform known as Obamacare."

After leaving the White House in 2010, Mr. Emanuel served two terms as mayor of Chicago from 2011 to 2019. In an interview with CNBC last August during the U.S. presidential election, he was asked what advice he would give to Mr. Biden, to which he replied, "Don't do the 'Green New Deal' and 'Medicare for All'" (which the leftist faction of the Democratic Party is focusing on).

According to a Democratic Party official, Biden initially considered appointing Emanuel as transportation secretary as a reward for his support in the tightly contested presidential election, but when the idea was made public in some media reports, the leftist wing of the Democratic Party rigorously opposed this idea. Subsequently, Biden considered appointing him to the position of ambassador to Japan. About that, however, another Democratic Party official said, "He specializes in domestic affairs, is not familiar with diplomacy, and I have never heard of his having any contact with Japan."

His Problematic Response to the Shooting of a Black Teenager

The left wing of the Democratic Party has strongly opposed the appointment of Mr. Emanuel to the post of ambassador to Japan. The action for which he is most viewed with suspicion is how he handled the gunning down of a 17-year-old black teenager by a police officer in October 2014, when he was mayor of Chicago. The teenager was walking on a street in Chicago with a small knife when a police officer fired 16 shots at him, killing him.

Amidst the growing public demand for the truth, the police authorities initially opposed the release of the video footage from the police car showing how the incident unfolded. The video was finally released a year later, and it was Emanuel who was criticized for his involvement in the "withholding information." Last November when Emanuel's name came up for Secretary of Transportation, member of the House of Representatives Ocasio-Cortez, a left-leaning Democrat with influence among young people, said, "He helped cover up the murder (of the teenager). Covering up a murder is disqualifying for public leadership," she tweeted.

In March of this year, nearly 30 left-leaning Democratic groups issued a joint statement saying they oppose any appointment of Emanuel to a post of ambassador. Norman Solomon, founder of the left-leaning group Roots Action that brought those groups together, said, "One of the biggest reasons we opposed Trump and supported Biden in the presidential race was the issue of racism. So our jaws dropped when we learned that someone with Emanuel's background is being considered for the ambassadorship despite all that we did for Biden," he said.

The Biden administration is expected to announce Emanuel's nomination as ambassador to Japan soon, but the appointment must be approved by the Senate, which has an equal number of Democrats and Republicans. The Democrats only hold a slim majority over the Republicans thanks to Vice President Harris's vote. It remains to be seen how Senator Bernie Sanders, the leader of the left-wing of the Democratic Party, will respond, and there is an element of fluidity before Emanuel's appointment to the post of ambassador is final.


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

Koji Sonoda

Koji Sonoda is a Correspondent at the Washington, DC Bureau of The Asahi Shimbun.

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