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Live Updates: Confirmation Hearings for U.S. Ambassadors to China and Japan
Rahm Emanuel, the former mayor of Chicago, appeared on Wednesday before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee as President Biden’s nominee for ambassador to Japan — but he quickly made it clear, with trademark bluntness, that he sees the post as a bulwark against China.
Mr. Emanuel, who took a hard line against Beijing as President Barack Obama’s first chief of staff, delivered a stern warning to China at the start of an otherwise muted hearing, saying he had been alarmed by that country’s provocative actions during the pandemic, referring to military, foreign policy, public health and economic measures.
“I think the world has learned a lot in Covid — we exposed some of our vulnerabilities, and I think China has been exposed for their venality,” said Mr. Emanuel, 61, echoing the message delivered by R. Nicholas Burns, Mr. Biden’s nominee for ambassador to China, during his own appearance before the panel an hour earlier.
“The region is desperate for America’s leadership,” he said.
The hearing began on a painful and discordant note. Mr. Emanuel was asked about his actions as Chicago’s mayor in the aftermath of the 2014 murder of a 17-year-old Black teenager, Laquan McDonald, at the hands of white police officer — and he conceded he had done too little to address the “distrust” among members of the city’s Black community.
That did not entirely satisfy all of the committee’s Democrats, especially Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon, who expressed skepticism of Mr. Emanuel’s claims that he did not intervene to release the video sooner to avoid prejudicing the judicial proceedings.
Yet it seemed clear from the start that the issue would not represent a serious impediment to his confirmation. He received words of support from several Democrats on the committee, as well as the ranking Republican, Senator Jim Risch of Idaho. He was introduced to the committee by Senator Bill Hagerty, Republican of Tennessee and a former ambassador to Japan, who argued for bipartisan approval of Mr. Emanuel.
Mr. Emanuel is known for his abrasive personality, fierce partisanship and reliance on profanity. But the hearing showcased the behind-the-scenes preparation of a consummate Washington operator: Mr. Emanuel, who has spent years quietly developing relationships on both sides of the aisle, worked his own nomination with determined focus and was carefully coached to address the McDonald case in a conciliatory, if not entirely apologetic, way.
His infamous impatience poked through from time to time, however. He fidgeted in his chair as he listened to the senators opine, and thwacked his microphone to ensure it was working before he launched into an opening statement.
While he spoke of the importance of bolstering trade with Japan, and praised the country as a reliable strategic partner, he almost exclusively focused on Japan’s role as a counter to Chinese expansion. Japan is part of the so-called Quad seeking to rein in China, which, besides the United States, includes Australia and India.
“For more than 60 years the partnership between the United States and Japan has been the cornerstone of peace and prosperity in a free and open Indo-Pacific,” Mr. Emanuel said.
“If confirmed my top priority will be to deepen these ties while we confront our common challenges,” he added. “China aims to conquer through division, America’s strategy is security through unity, and that regional unity is built on the shoulders of the U.S.-Japan alliance.”
The committee is expected to consider Mr. Emanuel’s nomination in the coming weeks, a source familiar with the plans said. It would then go to the full Senate for a vote.
Former Mayor Rahm Emanuel of Chicago, President Biden’s nominee for United States ambassador to Japan, faced a Senate confirmation hearing Wednesday — seven years to the day after a white city police officer murdered Laquan McDonald, a Black teenager, prompting protests and accusations of a cover-up.
“There’s not a day or a week that has gone by in the last seven years that I haven’t thought about this and thought about it,” said Mr. Emanuel, who cited reforms he instituted at the department after the killing.
But he took responsibility for not going far enough, and acknowledged that he greatly underestimated what he described as the widespread and justifiable mistrust of city government by the city’s Black community.
“I made a number of changes that dealt with oversight, accountability,” he said. “And it is clear to me the changes were inadequate to the level of distrust. They were on the best marginal, I thought I was addressing the issue, and I clearly missed the level of distrust and skepticism that existed, and that’s on me.”
Mr. Emanuel faced questions over his handling of the McDonald case, particularly the delayed release of a police dashboard camera video showing Officer Jason Van Dyke firing his weapon 16 times at Mr. McDonald, 17, on Oct. 20, 2014.
The video showed that Mr. McDonald was carrying a knife, walking and veering away from the officer when he was shot. The video was not released for more than a year, and only after a judge intervened.
Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey, the committee’s chairman, addressed the issue in his opening statement after welcoming Mr. Emanuel and his family to the Capitol.
“As you are aware, today is also the anniversary of the murder of Laquan McDonald,” Mr. Menendez said. “My heart goes out to his family on this day. I believe all of us share that sentiment and to so many other victims and their families as we work to deliver meaningful reforms to the Black and brown communities who endure injustices every day.”
Opinion on Mr. Emanuel varies widely in his hometown, but bitterness remains over the long delay of the release of the police video. The city agreed to pay Mr. McDonald’s family a $5 million settlement, and the officer was eventually convicted of a second-degree murder charge.
Mr. Emanuel, 61, who has repeatedly defended his actions, said he never saw the footage until it was released publicly, and told the committee he believed it would have been improper for him to intervene in the case by prejudicing investigators and potential jurors.
When “a politician unilaterally makes a decision in the middle of investigation you politicize the investigation,” he said.
The episode seriously weakened his political standing in Chicago, the nation’s third-largest city, and might have played in a role in his decision not to seek a third term.
Mr. Emanuel, a brash and hard-driving former Democratic congressman from Illinois who served as President Barack Obama’s first chief of staff, is expected to be confirmed, with the support of several Republicans, including Senators Susan Collins of Maine and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.
But several high-profile progressives, including Representatives Mondaire Jones and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Cori Bush of Missouri, have called on Senate Democrats to reject his nomination over his record on race relations and policing during his eight years as Chicago’s mayor.
Mr. Jones wrote on Twitter Wednesday before the hearing that the former mayor’s behavior disqualified him for government service.
Laquan McDonald should be alive today. Instead, on the anniversary of his death, the man who helped cover up his murder is being considered for an ambassadorship.
Rahm Emanuel has no business representing the United States. I urge my Senate colleagues to reject his nomination.
— Mondaire Jones (@MondaireJones) October 20, 2021
Mr. Emanuel, who helped hammer through the Affordable Care Act and financial rescue measures during his tenure in the West Wing, has met with senators during the past week, focusing mostly on trade and security issues, according to administration officials.
The former mayor, who spearheaded the Democratic take back of the House in 2006, has the support of the two Illinois senators, Richard J. Durbin and Tammy Duckworth, both Democrats.
When pressed by reporters on Tuesday, the White House press secretary, Jen Psaki — who worked closely with Mr. Emanuel during the Obama administration — did not say if Mr. Biden had discussed the McDonald case with him.
The president “knew his record, longstanding, prior to the nomination,” Ms. Psaki said.
R. Nicholas Burns, President Biden’s nominee to be U.S. ambassador to China, told a Senate panel on Wednesday that if he was confirmed he would help Mr. Biden pursue a strategy of competition and cooperation with a rising Beijing, which he called “the biggest geopolitical test of the 21st century.”
A lifelong diplomat who has held senior foreign policy posts in Democratic and Republican administrations, Mr. Burns was appearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which is considering his nomination. He was searing about China’s recent international role, saying that Beijing exploits trade rules at the expense of American businesses and workers, intimidates its neighbors, and is “smothering” democracy in Hong Kong.
He also condemned China’s treatment of its ethnic Uyghur population, which, in an echo of State Department policy, he called “genocide,” and he said that the United States should continue to support Taiwan’s self-defense against a potential Chinese attack — both issues of extreme sensitivity for Beijing.
But Mr. Burns said the United States should not overestimate China’s power. “Beijing proclaims that the East is rising, and the West is in decline,” he said. “I’m confident in our own country.”
“The People’s Republic of China is not an Olympian power,” he said. “It’s a country of extraordinary strength, but it also has substantial weaknesses and challenges, demographically, economically, politically.”
He added that America must balance competition with China on matters like its influence in the Indo-Pacific with cooperation on issues like climate change and North Korea’s nuclear program.
The soft-spoken Mr. Burns is well-regarded in both parties and likely to win broad support in a Senate confirmation vote. But his confirmation could be delayed by procedural roadblocks by Republican Senators Ted Cruz of Texas and Josh Hawley of Missouri, who have vowed to hold up all of Mr. Biden’s State Department nominees.
Mr. Burns’s nomination has drawn some positive reactions in China, which has complained about what it calls a sharply hawkish turn in American policy over the past several years.
In an August article about his nomination, The Global Times, a nationalist Beijing newspaper, quoted Lü Xiang, a research fellow on U.S. studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing, as saying that Mr. Burns’s “opinions on China are relatively balanced, not as extreme and stiff as the diplomats from the previous Trump administration, such as former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.”
Rahm Emanuel, President Biden’s nominee for ambassador to Japan, said Wednesday that the U.S.-Japan relationship was a “good bet” and that economic partnership between the two countries could help counter rising threats.
The former mayor of Chicago, who was President Barack Obama’s first chief of staff, appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Wednesday, saying that Japan can help achieve a core element of Mr. Biden’s foreign policy: countering the power of a rising China.
Japan is among America’s closest allies, and is an anchor of American influence in the Pacific. It is a member of the Quad, an alliance that also includes the United States, India and Australia, and serves as a strategic counterweight against Beijing, which in recent years has staked increasing political, economic and territorial claims across Asia.
“Everything we do has to send one message one signal: It’s a good bet to bet long on the United States and Japan,” said Mr. Emanuel.
When there is “economic integration of the largest and the third largest economy,” he added, “it’s a very very strong force” — a none-too-subtle warning to China, the world’s second-largest economy.
Mr. Emanuel’s message resonated with Republicans in the room. He was given a major boost at the outset of the hearing: A supportive introduction from Senator Bill Hagerty, Republican of Tennessee, who served as ambassador to Japan under President Donald J. Trump and who is a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
“I intend to provide him with the bipartisan support that I was fortunate to receive from this committee,” Mr. Hagerty said.
China’s rise has particularly unnerved Japan, a nation with limited armed forces that also relies on the United States — which has some 50,000 troops based in the country — for protection against a bellicose North Korea. Japan has also been wary of a shift in American political sentiment, fueled by former President Donald J. Trump’s talk of freeloading allies and charging money for U.S. military protection.
As ambassador, Mr. Emanuel could be particularly valuable to the Biden administration thanks to recent political upheaval in Tokyo, which saw the surprise departure last year, because of health reasons, of Japan’s longest-serving prime minister, Shinzo Abe. Mr. Abe’s successor is already about to be replaced with another unfamiliar face, leaving the Biden administration in need of fresh and reliable intelligence on the country’s leadership. The United States has not had a Senate-approved ambassador in Tokyo for more than two years.
From Tokyo’s perspective, Mr. Emanuel’s selection was a generally welcome one. In September, the English-language Japan Times noted that Mr. Emanuel, who was President Barack Obama’s first chief of staff, is “known for his sharp tongue,” but wrote that he is close to Mr. Biden, “providing Tokyo with what could amount to a direct line to the White House.”
The paper noted that his nomination “signals the importance the administration places on the U.S. alliance with Japan as Washington continues to lay the groundwork for a strategy to deal with challenges presented by China.”
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which on Wednesday considered some high-profile diplomatic nominations, has often been a decorous debating society, but Rahm Emanuel and R. Nicholas Burns, President Biden’s picks for ambassadorial posts in Japan and China faced a wilder ride.
The collision of events — escalating tensions with China and global supply chain interruptions — dominated the questioning of Mr. Burns, who has served as a diplomat under presidents of both parties.
Mr. Emanuel, the combative former Chicago mayor, faced the panel on the seventh anniversary of the killing of a Black teenager, Laquan McDonald, by a white city police officer.
The committee is chaired by Senator Robert Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat who ripped Mr. Biden’s chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan. While Mr. Menendez is likely to back both nominees, he was also less inclined to play the human-shield role adopted by other committee chairs in defense of the president’s nominees.
The ranking Republican on the committee, Senator Jim Risch of Idaho, gets along well with Mr. Menendez and has been working on legislation to stiffen the U.S. response to a range of actions by Beijing, focused on strengthening regional military coordination and a more aggressive approach to intellectual property theft.
Mr. Risch has not said how he will vote on either nominee, but he has said his meetings with both have been cordial — and other Republicans on the committee, including Senator Bill Hagerty, Republican of Tennessee who is a former ambassador to Japan, have signaled support for Mr. Emanuel.
Mr. Burns faced more intense policy questioning, but is almost certain to garner more support on the Republican side, having known some committee members for decades, including Senator Rob Portman of Ohio, who served with him under President George W. Bush.
Senator Ron Johnson, a Wisconsin Republican, grilled Mr. Burns for his previous statements about the origin of the pandemic, which downplayed the likelihood that the virus originated in a lab in Wuhan. That issue has been highly politicized, and the World Health Organization is preparing a second team to investigate the virus’s origins, after its first team rejected the possibility.
Mr. Burns, echoing recent assessments of Biden administration officials, said he believed the origins of the virus were still unknown, and said he backed efforts to intensify the investigation inside of Chin
Jonathan Eric Kaplan, the nominee to be ambassador to Singapore, also appeared before the Senate panel on Wednesday.
When Rahm Emanuel approached the end of his tenure as a famously combative mayor of Chicago, his hometown, he was praised for his ferocious drive to lure more business to the city, expand public transit, help transform a promenade along the Chicago River and boost graduation rates for public school children.
But the list of criticisms of his eight years in office was just as long: his handling of the death of Laquan McDonald, a Black teenager, after he was murdered by a white police officer; his closing of dozens of public schools and mental health clinics; and his failure to solve the city’s intractable struggles with gun violence.
When Mr. Emanuel announced in 2018 that he would not run for re-election, Chicago was stunned — and unaccustomed to a mayor who would depart the perch voluntarily after only two terms, rather than more than two decades, in the fashion of former Mayor Richard M. Daley. Political observers wondered if his tenure had been too marred to successfully win a third term, and he was opting to avoid a difficult contest.
Mr. Emanuel’s departure left a wide-open race, a rarity in Chicago mayoral politics. He was succeeded by Lori Lightfoot, who was elected in 2019 as the first Black woman to lead the city.
Ms. Lightfoot, a former federal prosecutor who entered office as a police reformer, has grappled with many of the same difficulties that Mr. Emanuel did: feuds with unions representing teachers and police officers, the city’s perilous finances and gun violence. (Unlike Mr. Emanuel, she has also had to lead the city through a pandemic.)
But Mr. Emanuel could claim an unexpected victory long after he left office: Census data released in 2020 revealed that Chicago’s population grew nearly 2 percent during his tenure, keeping its spot as the nation’s third-largest city.