By Sam Rosenthal

During the week since President Biden officially announced his nomination as ambassador to Japan, Rahm Emanuel has come under increasing fire for his record as Chicago’s mayor. RootsAction and other progressive groups as well as a range of commentators have pointed to Emanuel’s hostility toward public education and especially to his responsibility for the coverup of Laquan McDonald’s death at the hands of Chicago police.

While Biden may have hoped that the timing of the late Friday afternoon announcement would deflect attention from the nomination, the kerfuffle is now unfolding in full view of the mainstream media, both domestic and foreign. The Chicago Sun-Times quoted RootsAction co-founder Jeff Cohen, who said that “the #RejectRahm/‘NoToRahm’ campaign has virtually organized itself.” Crain’s Chicago Business quoted RootsAction national director Norman Solomon, who described Emanuel’s career as “Machiavelian” and blasted him for a career spent “pushing through policies that harmed the working class and people of color.”

Overseas, Kyodo News has reported on the McDonald scandal and other unsavory aspects of Emanuel’s career, bringing progressive discontent to the front pages of Emanuel’s would-be host country. Kyodo cited RootsAction’s statement amid rumblings about Emanuel’s planned nomination earlier this year. “Emanuel’s abysmal record as mayor of Chicago disqualifies him to represent the United States in a foreign capital,” the statement read. 

Emanuel’s nomination has also stoked the ire of progressives in the House of Representatives, as Politico reported. Representatives Cori Bush, Mondaire Jones and Jamaal Bowman have all called for the Senate not to confirm Emanuel. Representative Rashida Tlaib has also called for Emanuel not to be confirmed, explicitly contrasting his nomination with the Biden administration’s claimed commitments to opposing systemic racism and police brutality toward African Americans.

Caustic tensions between progressive groups and Emanuel are nothing new; Emanuel long ago earned a reputation as a no-holds-barred party operative who relishes the opportunity to sideline progressive challengers to establishment Democrats. For progressives, the Emanuel nomination presents an opportunity to stymie a figure whom they have long argued is a serious impediment to progress. The Biden administration, for its part, is eager to avoid another confirmation defeat like the one that befell OMB director-nominee Neera Tanden, and will likely push back aggressively against attempts to scuttle Emanuel’s nomination. The political struggle over whether the Senate should confirm him has just begun.