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Progressives criticise Biden for considering Rahm Emanuel for cabinet

Graig Graziosi
·5-min read
Biden Rahm Emanuel (Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)
Biden Rahm Emanuel (Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

Progressive Democrats are criticising Joe Biden for filling out his incoming administration with aides who are likely to undermine policy goals important to left-leaning voters.

The latest barrage of criticism for the president-elect came after it was reported that Mr Biden is considering asking former Chicago Mayor and Barack Obama administration staffer Rahm Emanuel to join his team as transportation secretary.

Mr Emanuel is a hated figure on the left side of the Democratic coalition. The former mayor left office in disgrace after it was discovered he had ordered dash cam footage showing the police shooting of Laquan McDonald suppressed for nearly a year. After a judge ordered the footage released, Mr Emanuel faced a wave of criticism and protests. He left office after two terms and was nearly hired by The Atlantic as a columnist, but public backlash forced the magazine to retract the offer.

Mr Emanuel denied the allegations that he had covered anything up.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasion-Cortez invoked Mr McDonald's death recently when she criticised the potential pick, suggesting Mr Emanuel would be a divisive choice.

"We must govern with integrity and accountability," she said. "Laquan McDonald's life mattered."

Ms Ocasio-Cortez told The New York Times that Mr Biden selecting Mr Emanuel would "signal, I think, a hostile approach to the grassroots and the progressive wing of the party."

"What is so hard to understand about this?" she wrote on Twitter. "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."

Mr Emanuel has also been an open and outspoken enemy of progressive policy goals.

During an appearance on CNBC in August, Mr Emanuel was asked how he would advise Democrats if they won the election.

"Two things I would say if I was advising an administration," Mr Emanuel said. "One is there's no new Green Deal, there's no Medicare For All, probably the single two topics that were discussed the most. That's not even in the platform."

The Green New Deal and Medicare for All are two of the most important policy goals for progressive Democrats.

Mr Emanuel served as White House Chief of Staff under Barack Obama, and pushed the president to scale back the Affordable Care Act in hopes it would have greater bi-partisan support. Mr Obama - convinced by arguments from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi - eventually overrode Mr Emanuel and passed the ACA.

Mr Emanuel has since apologised for trying to undermine the policy.

"Thank God for the country, he didn't listen to me," Mr Emanuel said in an interview with the Chicago Tribune.

In the past, Mr Emanuel suggested that popular progressive politicians like Ms Ocasio-Cortez and Rep. Ilhan Omar would not be able to speak to the needs of people in the "middle" of the country, despite Ms Omar representing a district in Minnesota. The same year he made those comments, six socialists were elected to Chicago's city council.

During his time as mayor of Chicago, Mr Emanuel earned praise for reviving public transportation in Chicago and overhauling the city's airports. He also greatly expanded bicycle access and safety within the city.

The city saw $11bn of investments in airfield, terminal and infrastructure at its airports thanks to Mr Emanuel, and more than $4.6bn in funding went to the city's public transit systems.

Mr Emanuel has supporters amongst some of his colleagues in Chicago.

Michelle Harris, a Chicago alderman representing a predominantly Black ward in the city's south side sung Mr Emanuel's praises in an interview with the Associated Press.

"Here´s a guy who understands government at all levels," Ms Harris said. "He´s the perfect candidate for the job. You don´t get many candidates that have more experience on how government works. He can start running Day One. He's not going to be crawling or walking. He´s going to be running."

But Ms Harris isn't the only elected official from Chicago with an opinion about Mr Emanuel.

Rossana Rodriguez-Sanchez, a Chicago city council member, penned an open letter in Jacobin calling on Mr Biden to stop considering Mr Emanuel for the position.

"When news networks called the election for you, cheers broke out in the streets of Chicago, a city that the current occupant of the White House has repeatedly demeaned, insulted, and threatened. It was the biggest rush of collective relief this city has experienced since 2019, when we had just rid ourselves of another craven egomaniac with a legacy of destruction," she wrote. "That man was former mayor Rahm Emanuel."

Ms Rodriguez-Sanchez claims in her letter that as mayor, Mr Emanuel closed fifty public schools in Chicago, shuttered half of the city's public mental health clinics, and used public TIF funds - meant to be used as incentives for builders to invest in blighted or low-income areas - to enrich areas of the city that were already thriving.

"If you want to root out systemic racism, defend democracy, and build a society that leaves no one behind — all worthy goals mentioned in your victory speech — I can think of few people worse for the job than the man who earned the nickname “Mayor 1%” while in office," she wrote.

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