WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden is expected to nominate former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel to serve as the U.S. ambassador to Japan, according to a person familiar with the president’s decision.
The person, who was not authorized to comment publicly about the matter and spoke on condition of anonymity Tuesday, said the White House plans to announce Emanuel’s nomination later this month.
Emanuel, 61, is a former three-term congressman who served as Barack Obama’s first White House chief of staff and was a senior adviser in Bill Clinton’s administration. Biden had considered naming Emanuel to serve as his transportation secretary but ultimately passed him over in the face of fierce opposition from some in the liberal wing of the Democratic Party and liberal activists. Change.org organized a petition and Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez slammed Emanuel on Twitter.
The White House declined to comment.
Ivo Daalder, a former U.S. ambassador to The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and now part of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, said, “The people who have these jobs are known as the chief of mission. You, in many ways, are carrying out the interest of the United States in the country but in also helping to explain what the country where you serve wants from the relationship.”
In selecting Emanuel to serve as his chief envoy to Japan, Biden will reward an informal adviser to his campaign and a significant force in Democratic Party politics for much of the last three decades with one of the highest-profile ambassadorial roles.
“Japan would like to have people be ambassadors who are very closely connected to the president himself and have great stature,” Daalder said. “So we’ve had people like Vice President Mondale, like former Speaker Tom Foley, like for Senate Majority Leader Howard Baker and Caroline Kennedy as ambassadors to Japan.”
Emanuel, if confirmed by the Senate, could be in place in Tokyo ahead of the Summer Olympics. He also would head to Japan at a moment when Biden wants to increase focus on the Indo-Pacific and strengthen the U.S.-Japan relationship.
The pick of Emanuel could rankle some in the progressive wing of the Democratic Party. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, in particular, has criticized his handling of the high-profile shooting death of Laquan McDonald, a Black teenager, by a white police officer during Emanuel’s time as Chicago’s mayor.
Emanuel may be controversial, but there’s a push to find more people like him for ambassadorships after decades of U.S. presidents rewarding wealthy political donors with the jobs.
Ian Hurd, an international affairs professor at Northwestern University, said, “Sending your main donors cushy ambassadorships is a pretty entrenched institutional tradition in the United States. It doesn’t exist in any other country, really. But in the U.S., it’s a big part of the practice. So if Biden is to break from that, I think he would be making waves of a different kind, so he might offend some of the donor class, but he might impress a lot of the regular folks who don’t think public office should be sold to the highest bidder.”