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On eve of Rahm Emanuel Senate confirmation hearing, Jen Psaki pressed about Laquan McDonald shooting

Emanuel heads into his Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing to be the next U.S. ambassador to Japan with no senators opposing his nomination.

Citing the Laquan McDonald shooting by a Chicago police officer, activists protest Rahm Emanuel’s nomination to be U.S. ambassador to Japan at the Chicago Police headquarters the day before his Senate confirmation hearing.
Citing the Laquan McDonald shooting by a Chicago police officer, activists protest Rahm Emanuel’s nomination to be U.S. ambassador to Japan at the Chicago Police headquarters the day before his Senate confirmation hearing.
Paul Beaty/AP photo

WASHINGTON — While Rahm Emanuel will stress his international experience at his Wednesday Senate confirmation hearing to be President Joe Biden’s ambassador to Japan, activists are hoping his handling of the Laquan McDonald case will block him from going to Tokyo.

The activists — who come out of the progressive wing of the Democratic party in Chicago and nationally — are likely to be disappointed, even as they send up flares to the Biden team that Black voters are not to be taken for granted.

To date, no senator is publicly opposing Emanuel, and progressives — who are flexing their collective muscle in House and Senate negotiations over crucial Biden agenda legislation — were not powerful enough to prevent Biden from nominating the former Chicago mayor in August.

And if Emanuel loses a few Democratic votes either in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee or in the full Senate, he has enough Republicans lined up to replace them. He has been working the Senate side of Capitol Hill, making in-person courtesy calls.

Home state Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin will introduce Emanuel to the committee along with Sen. Bill Hagerty, R-Tenn., former President Donald Trump’s ambassador to Japan and a member of the Foreign Relations Committee.

Progressives have been against Emanuel since he first charted a centrist course as an adviser in the Clinton White House. Those moderate Democratic politics, his record on immigration and health care during his years as former President Barack Obama’s first chief of staff plus his tenure as mayor dealing with public schools and other matters have long drawn domestic protests from the progressives.

Emanuel has been dogged for years over the murder of McDonald, a Black teen shot 16 times by Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke near 41st Street and Pulaski Road.

Activists, focusing on the McDonald murder to try to get traction to doom Emanuel’s Japan nomination, by coincidence caught a break.

McDonald was killed on Oct. 20, 2014, and the hearing takes place on the 7th anniversary of his death. That sad anniversary has nothing to do with the confirmation hearing timing. The panel is taking up the confirmation of three nominees to Asian nations: Emanuel to Japan; R. Nicholas Burns to China and Jonathan Eric Kaplan to Singapore.

Still, that anniversary threw a spotlight on McDonald and Emanuel just before his confirmation hearing. It was the kickoff question at White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki’s Tuesday briefing.

She was asked, “How much weight did the president place on Emanuel’s handling of the Laquan McDonald police murder — involved murder before offering him the ambassadorship of Japan?”

Defending Emanuel, Psaki replied, Biden tapped him “to serve as ambassador to Japan because he’s somebody who has a record of public service, both in Congress, serving as a public official in the White House, and certainly also as the mayor of Chicago.”

Pressed about “activists in Chicago” and others who are saying Emanuel’s “nomination is out of step with the values of the president, who has called for a comprehensive and meaningful police reform,” Psaki said Biden’s “record, commitment to police reform speaks for itself.”

At Chicago Police headquarters, activists held a news conference Tuesday to denounce, again, Emanuel’s nomination. Activist Delmarie Cobb said “he should not ever hold another office of public trust.”

Joining Emanuel at their hearing will be his wife, Amy; son, Zach, a Navy intelligence officer; and daughter Ilana, who works for a cable news network. Daughter Leah, a junior at Princeton, will not be at the hearing.

According to prepared text of his opening statement, Emanuel will not address the McDonald controversy.

Instead he has circulated letters of support from nine Black Chicago aldermen; former Deputy Mayor Andrea Zopp, a former Chicago Urban League CEO; and Pastor Marvin Hunter, McDonald’s uncle.

As mayor, Emanuel will note that it was “a priority to bring the world to Chicago, and Chicago to the world. During my tenure, Chicago led the nation in corporate relocations and foreign direct investment for seven consecutive years. I also presided over the most active sister cities organization in America.

“As Mayor, I traveled to Japan to meet with public and private sector leaders and signed The Japan-Chicago Partnership Agreement with the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the eight additional ministries, marking the first time the Japanese government entered into a formal agreement with a North American city. In addition, the Governor of Tokyo signed the Chicago Climate Charter – a first-of-its-kind municipal agreement.”

“This trip laid the groundwork for deepening Chicago and Japan relations, including corporate relocations by two preeminent Japanese companies — DMG Mori and Beam Suntory — and many cultural exchange initiatives.”