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Senate committee advances Rahm Emanuel’s nomination to be ambassador to Japan

Emanuel’s prospects for confirmation remain solid even without the support of Democratic Sens. Jeff Merkley of Oregon and Edward Markey of Massachusetts.

Rahm Emanuel, former mayor of Chicago and former chief of staff in the Obama White House, testifies during a confirmation hearing Oct. 20.
Rahm Emanuel, former mayor of Chicago and former chief of staff in the Obama White House, testifies during a confirmation hearing Oct. 20.
Alex Wong/Getty Images file

WASHINGTON — The Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday approved former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel to be the next U.S. ambassador to Japan, with two Democrats on the panel opposing his nomination.

Emanuel’s prospects for confirmation remain solid even without the support of Democratic Sens. Jeff Merkley of Oregon and Edward Markey of Massachusetts.

It is rare for a Democrat to oppose a nominee of President Joe Biden; so far no other Democratic senator has, in public, questioned Biden’s choice of Emanuel.

The loss of support of the two Democrats is not critical to his confirmation at this point because he has the support of at least two Republicans, the co-chair of the GOP Foreign Relations Committee Sen. James Risch of Idaho, and Sen. Bill Hagerty, of Tennessee, a former Trump ambassador to Japan. Both men have said in public they back Emanuel.

Emanuel’s nomination advanced to the Senate floor on a voice vote. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fl., also was a no, but he has opposed all of Biden’s nominees to positions in the State Department.

During his October confirmation hearing — which most senators on the panel on both sides of the aisle did not attend — Merkley was the only senator to raise objections to Emanuel becoming an envoy to Japan.

Merkley grilled Emanuel over his handling of the Laquan McDonald murder while he was mayor. McDonald is the Black teen shot 16 times by a white Chicago police officer on Oct. 20, 2014.

In a statement, Merkley said on Wednesday, “Black Lives Matter. 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.

“While I respect Mayor Emanuel’s many years of service, and the points of view of my colleagues who have come to a different conclusion, I will be voting ‘no’ when his nomination comes before the committee.”

Merkley and Markey come out of the progressive wing of congressional Democrats. Whether Emanuel has the support of leading progressives Bernie Sanders, the Independent from Vermont, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, the Massachusetts Democrat, is not known. Even if several other Democrats reject Emanuel, he is expected to have enough GOP support to secure his nomination.

The date of a Senate confirmation vote has not been set. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, has been using a delay tactic, called a hold, to block quick votes for many Biden nominees — for reasons having nothing to do with Emanuel. It’s not known yet if he will be blocking Emanuel along with the others.

And if the Emanuel nomination proceeds to the floor, it’s possible he does not get a separate vote since the Senate can, if there is agreement between Republican and Democratic leaders, package multiple nominations in one measure.