Handling of police shooting looms over hearing for Biden's Japan envoy pick

Rahm Emanuel during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in Washington on Oct. 20, 2021.
Rahm Emanuel during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in Washington on Oct. 20, 2021.PHOTO: NYTIMES

WASHINGTON (AFP) - US President Joe Biden's pick to be ambassador to Japan, Rahm Emanuel, faced lawmakers on Wednesday (Oct 20) at a confirmation hearing where he was confronted over his handling of a deadly police shooting while he was mayor of Chicago.

The veteran Democratic politician who once served as Barack Obama's chief of staff was made to address the crisis that followed the 2014 death of Black teen Laquan McDonald, who was shot 16 times by Chicago police.

Seated before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Emanuel sought to demonstrate his capacity for sensitive international diplomacy as top envoy to Japan, as Washington and Tokyo align against common adversary China.

But with the hearing held on the seventh anniversary of McDonald's killing, focus on the shooting and Emanuel's handling of the aftermath was inevitable.

Progressives have protested Emanuel, saying his actions as mayor of the nation's third largest city - including refusal to make police video of the killing public for more than a year - should disqualify him from representing a US administration that claims police reform is a top priority.

Emanuel, 61, has apologised for his handling of the tragedy, and in Wednesday's hearing he stressed that as mayor he was "responsible and accountable for fixing this."

"And to be honest, there's not a day or a week that has gone by in the last seven years I haven't thought about this," he told lawmakers.

No Senate Democrats publicly oppose Emanuel's confirmation, and Republican Senator Bill Hagerty, who served as US ambassador to Tokyo from 2017 to 2019, said he would provide bipartisan support for Biden's pick.

But Democrat Jeff Merkley voiced concern about Emanuel's handling of the shooting and the quick financial settlement with McDonald's family largely out of the public eye.

"It seems hard to believe that all those things happened and yet you were never briefed on the details of the situation when you were leading the city," Merkley said.

Chicago Democratic congressional candidate Kina Collins urged senators to reject the nomination.

"He took no accountability. He made no apologies. All we heard were more excuses. Excuses won't bring Laquan back," Collins tweeted.

If the foreign relations panel approves Emanuel's nomination it goes to the full Senate for a confirmation vote.