CHICAGO (CBS/AP) — Following months of speculation, President Joe Biden has officially nominated former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel as his ambassador to Japan.
In announcing Emanuel’s nomination, the White House touted his efforts to increase economic development in Chicago during his time as mayor, saying he “ensured Chicago was a leader on the global stage.”
President Biden also nominated Dr. Michael Battle, former ambassador to the African Union and former senior advisor to the bureau of African Affairs at State Department, as ambassador to Tanzania; and R. Nicholas Burns, a former ambassador to NATO and former ambassador to Greece, as his ambassador to China.
In selecting Emanuel to serve as his chief envoy to Japan, the president reward an informal adviser to his 2020 campaign and a significant force in Democratic Party politics for much of the last three decades with one of the highest-profile ambassadorial roles.
Emanuel, if confirmed by the Senate, would head to Japan at a moment when Biden wants to increase focus on the Indo-Pacific and strengthen the U.S.-Japan relationship.
Biden in April hosted Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga at the White House, the first in-person foreign leader visit of his presidency, and one month later hosted South Korea President Moon Jae-in.
The administration has made strengthening relations with partners in the region a priority as Biden increases focus on China. Biden has repeatedly cited China as the greatest economic competitor to the U.S. and admonished Beijing for human rights violations and unfair trade practices.
In a news conference during his White House visit, Suga made repeated references to the “severe security environment” in East Asia, where China under Xi Jinping is exerting its economic and military strength, including with military deployments meant to assert its disputed territorial claims in the region.
Biden for his part has stressed U.S. commitments to Japan’s defense and said the alliance would “prove that democracies can still commit and win” and “deliver for our people.”
Emanuel, 61, who also once served as chief of staff to President Barack Obama, and senior adviser to President Bill Clinton, earlier had been considered for Biden’s transportation secretary, but faced stiff opposition from progressive leaders in Congress.
Emanuel, who also served three terms in Congress before joining the Obama White House, and then two terms as mayor of Chicago, has been a significant force in Democratic Party politics for much of the last three decades. But progressives and civil rights leaders have been critical of his handling of the fatal police shooting of Laquan McDonald as mayor.
U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York) earlier this year called it “shameful” that Emanuel was even being considered for a Biden cabinet position.
The 2015 release of the video of McDonald’s fatal shooting caused widespread backlash that sparked protests and heightened racial tensions across the city. Emanuel was heavily criticized for waiting more than a year after the shooting to release the video in a move critics say was fueled by his motive to get re-elected to his second term as mayor.
The officer who shot and killed McDonald, Jason Van Dyke, is now serving a 6-year and 9-month sentence after a Cook County jury convicted him of second-degree murder and 16 counts of aggravated battery.
On the eve of jury selection for Van Dyke’s trial, Emanuel announced he would not seek a third term as mayor of Chicago.
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