Despite vocal opposition to Rahm Emanuel having a role in the Biden Administration, recent reports suggest the notorious former mayor of Chicago may be destined for an ambassadorship after all. Once rumored to be considered for Transportation secretary, the man who also served as President Barack Obama‘s former White House chief of staff previously drew opposition from a range of groups, including the NAACP and trade unions.
For some, President Joe Biden’s claimed commitment to addressing racial justice is inconsistent with Emanuel’s inclusion in the administration. By now, most people are familiar with the list of grievances against Emanuel. But framing attempts to dislodge Emanuel from positions of power as simply “progressive complaints” ignores his actual controversial history in office and advisory positions alike.
As previously reported by the Guardian, Chicago-based activists suggest Biden consider the optics of giving someone like Emanuel a position in his administration. Continuing to bolster Emanuel’s political profile with new, important roles could send the message that the Biden Administration only pays lip service when it comes to accountability and justice.
Biden started off his first week as president with an express commitment to prioritizing racial justice. Having a man who is accused of covering up the murder of Laquan McDonald to win re-election could raise doubts about the sincerity of that commitment.
Beyond covering up the murder of a Black teenager, Rahm’s policies exacerbated a history of segregation and systemic disinvestment in Black and brown neighborhoods in Chicago. Early in his tenure as mayor, Emanuel closed 50 schools and walked back promises that communities would have a say in the future uses of those sites.
Shortly before his departure from city leadership, advocacy group Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Chicago called out Emanuel for playing into racist stereotypes of Asians in early 2019. More recently, the Council on American-Islamic Relations called Emanuel “unfit for service” in the Biden-Harris Administration for use of an Islamaphobic trope to describe the relationship between Republicans and Democrats post-Trump.
An Emanuel appointment could also compromise the Biden administration’s efforts to restore the country’s role as a moral leader abroad. Launching his presidential campaign with a promise to “restore the soul of America,” Biden has an opportunity to end the promotions of previously disgraced politicians to new positions of power.