Rahm Emanuel, the longtime Democratic insider who served as chief of staff to President Barack Obama before being twice elected as mayor of Chicago, was one of 41 ambassadorial nominees confirmed overnight. Emanuel will serve as ambassador to Japan.
“As Ambassador, I will work tirelessly to deepen our ties as our countries confront common challenges. While Chicago will always be home, Amy and I look forward to this next chapter in Japan,” Emanuel wrote on Twitter Saturday.
Although Emanuel was nominated in August, his confirmation vote was among those delayed by political maneuvering by Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, who has for months held up diplomatic appointments in an effort to force a vote on sanctions against the companies behind a controversial pipeline in Europe.
The pipeline, called Nord Stream 2, runs more than 750 miles and travels under the Baltic Sea from Russia to Germany.
Opponents of the pipeline, including lawmakers from both parties, worry that it will allow Russia too much control over European energy supply — and some pressure has mounted on the Biden administration to take action as Russia has threatened Ukraine.
But senators struck a late-night deal Friday, with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer agreeing to schedule a January vote on sanctions in exchange for Cruz allowing the diplomatic appointment votes to go through.
Emanuel was approved at 1:30 a.m. by a bipartisan vote of 48-21. Eight Republicans joined Democrats in supporting Emanuel, while three progressive Democrats joined a slate of mostly conservative Republicans in voting against his confirmation.
Some progressives in Congress, including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, had voiced objections to Emanuel’s nomination stemming from his controversial tenure as mayor of Chicago — especially his administration’s handling of the police shooting of Laquan McDonald.
McDonald, a Black 17-year-old, was shot to death by a Chicago police officer in October 2014. Initial reports by police officers said McDonald was acting “crazed” and lunged at officers with a knife. His death was initially ruled justified by the Chicago Police Department.
But more than a year later, a judge ordered the public release of police video footage recorded at the scene.
The footage showed that McDonald, who was armed with a small knife, was walking away from police when he was first shot by officer Jason Van Dyke, who is white, and that Van Dyke continued shooting after McDonald fell to the ground.
After the video was made public, the city reached a $5 million settlement with McDonald’s family, and Van Dyke was convicted of second-degree murder.
The video’s release prompted protests and calls for the resignation of various city officials — including Emanuel, who had been reelected in the months between the shooting and the release of the footage.
Emanuel faced questions about his decisions in the wake of the shooting during his October confirmation hearing.
“There’s not a day or a week that has gone by in the last seven years that I haven’t thought about this and thought about the what-ifs,” he said then. “I thought I was addressing the issue, and I clearly missed the level of distrust and skepticism that existed, and that’s on me.”
During his hearing, Emanuel promised to use his post as ambassador to Japan to counter China’s growing influence.
“China aims to conquer through division. America’s strategy is security through unity. And that regional unity is built on the shoulders of the U.S.-Japan alliance,” he said.
Emanuel will be sworn in before the end of the year, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.
In the late-night session that ended early Saturday, the Senate also confirmed ambassadors to the European Union, Spain, Vietnam and Somalia, along with a handful of federal judges.