Late last week, after CNN’s Jeff Zeleny reported that former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel was under consideration to be Transportation secretary in the Biden administration, liberals quickly made clear how much they hated the idea.
“Rahm Emanuel covered up the murder of a Black teenager, Laquan McDonald, while he was Mayor of Chicago,” tweeted New York Rep.-elect Mondaire Jones. “That he’s being considered for a cabinet position is completely outrageous and, honestly, very hurtful.”
Quickly pivoting in the face of such ardent opposition, the Biden transition team floated the idea of Emanuel as US trade representative earlier this week.
But that didn’t help matters.
“Rahm Emanuel should not be considered for any position within the Biden administration,” tweeted New York Rep.-elect Jamaal Bowman on Monday.
Fellow New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, perhaps the most high-profile liberal in the country, was even clearer in a series of tweets. She wrote:
“What is so hard to understand about this? Rahm Emanuel helped cover up the murder of Laquan McDonald. Covering up a murder is disqualifying for public leadership. This is not about the ‘visibility’ of a post. It is shameful and concerning that he is even being considered….It is also a truly embarrassing indictment of what’s considered ‘center’ politics in the US that objecting to the appointment of an official who helped cover up the murder of a Black child is deemed the ‘progressive, far left’ position.”
At the center of liberals’ distrust and dislike of Emanuel is how he handled the McDonald case – in which an African American teenager was shot 16 times by a White police officer in 2014. The video of the shooting was not released for more than a year – and its release came on the same day the officer involved was charged with murder. That timing raised major questions about Emanuel’s role in the case to the fore as protesters took to the streets to demand Emanuel’s resignation.
“I own it,” Emanuel said at the time – although he refused to resign. “I take responsibility for what happened, because it happened on my watch.”
Emanuel eventually announced in September 2018 he would not run for a third term, a decision that came just one day before jury selection was set to begin in the officer’s trial.
While the McDonald shooting has become the flashpoint for liberal ire directed toward Emanuel, the ill will directed at the former mayor long predates that incident.
Emanuel, from his days leading the Democratic congressional campaign arm in the mid-2000s, has been willing to antagonize liberals within the party. He recruited moderate and conservative Democrats to run in swing districts in the 2006 election – a strategy widely credited with restoring Democrats to the House majority in that election.
But the antipathy really began in earnest after Emanuel was chosen by former President Barack Obama to serve as his first White House chief of staff. Emanual, infamously to liberals, counseled the new president to avoid an attempt to reform the health care system under the belief that the outcome was too uncertain to risk it. “I gave him my advice,” Emanuel said in 2012 of Obama’s decision to tackle health care reform.
“I told him many times (about) the political cost of doing this,” Emanuel said. “And thank God for the country, he didn’t listen to me.”
In a December 2015 piece on Emanuel, Rick Perlstein, writing in the New Yorker, summed up liberals’ views of Emanuel:
“So much of the legend of Rahm Emanuel’s brilliant career makes little sense. The bigger question, perhaps, is what this says about a political party and the political press that bought the legend in the first place.”
Emanuel, never one to back down from a fight, has been plenty willing to give it back to liberals seeking to ride him out of public life. In an op-ed published in The Washington Post in July 2019 headlined “No, the Democratic Party hasn’t lurched to the left,” Emanuel wrote scathingly:
“The left didn’t just get here – it has been around for decades. In fact, it was progressives who controlled the Democratic Party’s agenda for the quarter-century before Clinton’s victory in 1992. That’s one of the reasons we lost every presidential election held between 1968 and 1988 except the post-Watergate win by Jimmy Carter. History has proved there aren’t enough voters on the far left, on their own, to elect and reelect a president or maintain a majority in Congress.”
Biden, so far in his Cabinet picks, hasn’t shown any fear about angering the left. His picks for top advisers are, largely, longtime advisers supportive of his centrist brand of politics. And while Janet Yellen, Biden’s pick to be the Treasury secretary, is liked by liberals, she is not loved in the way that, say, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren is.
Putting Emanuel into a prominent role in his administration would be something different by Biden, however. It would be regarded by liberals as an open provocation – whether or not Biden meant it that way. And it’s not clear if the President-elect is willing to go that far down the road of antagonizing liberals before he is even the president.