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U.S. Senate split on nominee for ambassador to Japan

By Sonoda Koji


WASHINGTON — A Senate confirmation hearing for former Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel (age 61), who was nominated by U.S. President Joe Biden as the next U.S. Ambassador to Japan, will be held in October 2021. Approval by a majority of the Senate is required for confirmation, but there is smoldering opposition within the Democratic Party. On the other hand, a former Emanuel aide emphasizes that Emanuel’s appointment would be beneficial to Japan because of his strong ties to the Biden administration.


Emanuel’s nomination has received much attention in the U.S. On Sept. 19, the Washington Post gave a detailed report in a page-long article. Emanuel’s nomination receives much attention because of differing opinions of him within the Democratic Party in addition to his being a major politician.


While mainstream Democratic Party members, such as Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, are in favor of Emanuel’s nomination, the progressive wing of the party opposes the nomination. Progressives are strongly dissatisfied with his handling of an incident in which an African-American boy was shot dead by a police officer during Emanuel’s tenure as mayor of Chicago, claiming that Emanuel was involved in the cover-up of the case. Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez issued a statement on Sept. 1, strongly criticizing the nomination, saying that “this nomination is deeply shameful.” Rep. Ocasio-Cortez referred to the shooting incident and said it “betrays the values we seek to uphold both within our nation and around the world.”


The Senate, which confirms the president’s nominations, is evenly balanced between Democrats and Republicans, 50 senators each. Rejection of Emanuel’s nomination would inevitably deal a blow to the Biden administration, and Democratic senators will have to deal with the difficult situation. Meanwhile, Republican senators Susan Collins and Bill Hagerty (former ambassador to Japan) have made comments welcoming Emanuel’s ambassadorial nomination.


Former aide says Emanuel is “patient and robust,” and “extremely beneficial to Japan”


Michael Faulman, a former aide to Emanuel while he was mayor of Chicago, emphasized in an Asahi interview that “Japan will have the ears of the president (i.e., through Emanuel), and having a direct line [to the president] is extremely beneficial.”


Faulman was a White House staff member during the Obama administration. In 2010, Faulman was invited by Emanuel, then White House Chief of Staff, to join Emanuel’s campaign for mayor of Chicago. Faulman supported Emanuel as a special aide for six years while Emanuel was mayor.


Emanuel has earned the nickname “Rahmbo” and tends to be seen as having a fierce temperament. Faulman, who has worked closely with Emanuel, points out that Emanuel is good at negotiating politically with various parties and groups to reach a conclusion. During his time at the White House, Emanuel negotiated with Republicans to pass bills. While he served as Chicago mayor, Emanuel negotiated with the teachers’ union over the extension of school hours to resolve the issue. “He is patient and robust,” Faulman said.


According to Faulman, then-President Obama selected Emanuel [as Chief of Staff] not only because they are both from Chicago, but also because President Obama highly valued Emanuel’s familiarity with members of Congress and Washington political circles.


Emanuel is said to have been close to President Biden, who was Vice President during the Obama administration. After taking office as mayor, Emanuel met not only President Obama but also Vice President Biden every time he went to Washington, D.C., on business. Vice-President Biden even participated in an event sponsored by the city of Chicago. Emanuel is also very close to President Biden’s associates, including White House Chief of Staff Ron Klaine and Secretary of State Antony Blinken. “He has had a long-standing relationship with President Biden, and the relationship will definitely continue,” Faulman said.

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