The Murder of Laquan McDonald Looms over Rahm Emanuel’s Confirmation

Rahm Emanuel is expected to be confirmed, with the support of several Republicans, including Senators Susan Collins of Maine and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.,


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The murder of Laquan McDonald looms over Rahm Emanuel’s confirmation.

Rahm Emanuel, then the mayor of Chicago, in 2018.Credit…Alyssa Schukar for The New York Times

Oct. 20, 2021, 8:36 a.m. ET

Former Mayor Rahm Emanuel of Chicago, President Biden’s nominee for United States ambassador to Japan, faces 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.

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 he is likely to face questions during his hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee over his handling of the McDonald case, particularly the delayed release of police footage showing Officer Jason Van Dyke killing Mr. McDonald, 17, on Oct. 20, 2014.

The city released dashboard camera footage over a year later, after a judge intervened. The footage showed the officer firing the weapon 16 times as the teenager, who was carrying a knife, walked along, veering away from the officer.

The city agreed to pay his family a $5 million settlement, and Mr. Van Dyke 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 maintains that the case led to long-overdue reforms in the department, including the use of body cameras and implementation of de-escalation policies.


Dashcam footage showed Laquan McDonald moments before being fatally shot by Officer Jason Van Dyke in 2014.Credit…Chicago Police Department, via Associated Press

But the episode seriously weakened his political standing in Chicago, the nation’s third-largest city, and might have played in role in his decision not to seek a third term.

Several high-profile progressives, including Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Mondaire Jones 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 mayor.

“Rahm Emanuel covered up the murder of Laquan McDonald,” Ms. Bush wrote on Twitter when his nomination was announced in August. “He must be disqualified from ever holding an appointed position in any administration.”

On Wednesday, representatives of Indivisible Chicago, a liberal group organized to oppose the Trump administration, held a demonstration calling for Mr. Emanuel to be rejected.

Mr. Emanuel, who helped hammer through the Affordable Care Act and financial rescue measures during his tenure in the West Wing, has been huddling with senators for the past week, meetings that have mostly focused 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.

The White House press secretary, Jen Psaki — who worked closely with Mr. Emanuel during the Obama years — did not say if Mr. Biden has discussed the McDonald case with him when pressed by reporters on Tuesday.

The president “knew his record, longstanding, prior to the nomination,” Ms. Psaki said.

The committee will also deliberate over the nomination of Nicholas Burns, a veteran diplomat, to serve as Mr. Biden’s ambassador to China, and Jonathan Eric Kaplan to be the U.S. ambassador to Singapore.

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