Former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, President Biden’s candidate for U.S. Ambassador to Japan, was the subject of a Senate confirmation hearing on Wednesday – seven years to the day after a police officer from the white city murdered Laquan McDonald, a black teenager, sparking protests and cover accusations – up.
“Not a day or a week has passed in the past seven years that I haven’t thought about it and thought about it,” said Emanuel, who cited the reforms he instituted in the department after murder.
But he took responsibility for not going far enough and admitted that he had greatly underestimated what he described as the widespread and justifiable distrust of city government by the black community of the city.
âI made a number of changes that were about oversight, accountability,â he said. âAnd it is clear to me that the changes were insufficient in terms of mistrust. They were on the best fringe, I thought I was addressing the issue, and I clearly missed the level of mistrust and skepticism that was out there, and that’s on me.
Mr Emanuel was faced with questions about his handling of the McDonald case, particularly the delayed release of a police dashboard camera video showing Constable Jason Van Dyke firing his gun 16 times on Mr. McDonald, 17, October 20, 2014.
Video showed Mr McDonald was carrying a knife, walking and walking away from the officer when he was shot. The video was not shown for over a year, and only after a judge intervened.
Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey, chairman of the committee, addressed the issue in his opening statement after welcoming Mr. Emanuel and his family to Capitol Hill.
âAs you know, today is also the anniversary of the murder of Laquan McDonald,â Mr. Menendez said. âMy heart goes out to his family on this day. I believe we all share this sentiment and that of so many other victims and their families as we work to bring about meaningful reforms to black and brown communities that experience injustices every day. “
Opinion on Mr. Emanuel varies widely in his hometown, but bitterness remains over the long delay in the release of the police video. The city agreed to pay Mr. McDonald’s family a $ 5 million settlement, and the officer was ultimately convicted of a second degree murder charge.
Mr. Emanuel, 61, who has repeatedly defended his actions, said he had never seen the footage until they were made public, and told the committee he believed it would have been inappropriate for him to intervene in the case by wearing prejudice to investigators and potential jurors.
When “a politician unilaterally makes a decision in the middle of an investigation, you politicize the investigation,” he said.
The episode seriously weakened his political position in Chicago, the country’s third largest city, and may have played a role in his decision not to run for a third term.
Mr Emanuel, a brash and determined former Democratic congressman from Illinois who served as President Barack Obama’s first chief of staff, is expected to be confirmed, with the backing of several Republicans, including Senators Susan Collins of Maine and Lindsey Graham from South Caroline.
But several high-profile progressives, including Representatives Mondaire Jones and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Cori Bush of Missouri, called on Senate Democrats to reject his nomination because of his track record on race relations and maintenance of the order during his eight years as mayor of Chicago.
Mr Jones wrote on Twitter Wednesday ahead of the hearing that the former mayor’s behavior had disqualified him from government service.
Mr. Emanuel, who helped pass the Affordable Care Act and financial bailouts during his tenure in the West Wing, met with Senators over the past week, focusing primarily on issues trade and security, according to administration officials.
The former mayor, who led the Democratic takeover of the House in 2006, has the support of two senators from Illinois, Richard J. Durbin and Tammy Duckworth, both Democrats.
Pressed by reporters on Tuesday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki – who worked closely with Mr Emanuel during the Obama administration – did not say whether Mr Biden had discussed the case McDonald’s with him.
The president “knew of his long-standing track record prior to the appointment,” Psaki said.