Two Democratic senators opposed Rahm Emanuel as U.S. ambassador to Japan in a committee vote Wednesday morning, although it was not enough to sink his nomination.
Sens. Ed Markey (Mass.) and Jeff Merkley (Ore.) were the two “no” votes on the Foreign Relations Committee. It’s not clear whether there will be more Democratic opposition when Emanuel goes before the full Senate for a vote.
In a statement Wednesday, Merkley explained his opposition, citing the Black Lives Matter movement and feedback from civil rights leaders.
“Black Lives Matter,” Merkley said in his 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. 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.”
Emanuel’s nomination is one of Biden’s most controversial among progressive lawmakers. In 2019, Emanuel decided against running for a third term, leaving as the least popular Chicago mayor in modern history due to his mishandling of the killing of Laquan McDonald, a 17-year-old Black youth who was shot by a white police officer.
House members including Cori Bush (D-Mo.) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) have also spoken out against making Emanuel ambassador.
Unless more Democrats join Markey and Merkley, Emanuel could still be confirmed. He has waged an “aggressive behind-the-scenes effort” to get support from both Democrats and Republicans, according to The Washington Post, and he appears to have the support of several GOP senators.
But progressive anger with Emanuel goes back further than his time as mayor of Chicago. As a House member and top adviser to presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, Emanuel became known for a pro-corporate policymaking, embodied by his role in shepherding the North American Free Trade Agreement through passage in 1994 and his internal objections to Obama’s pursuit of comprehensive health care reform in 2010.
This piece has been updated with the committee vote.