Come January, Joe Biden will become the 46th president of the United States because Black people revived his flagging campaign with a decisive victory in the South Carolina primary. Then, by a larger percentage than any other group, they helped put him in the White House.
This makes any thought of Rahm Emanuel in the Biden administration both incomprehensible and manifestly unacceptable.
As Chicago’s mayor, Emanuel stalled the release of video showing the 2014 police killing of Laquan McDonald. It took a judge’s ruling to force Emanuel to release this crucial evidence to the public — more than a year after officer Jason Van Dyke shot McDonald 16 times, including when the 17-year-old was already on the ground. The video revealed the official story as a lie, and flipped what city authorities called a justified shooting into Van Dyke becoming the first Chicago cop in nearly 50 years convicted of murder.
McDonald’s death occurred a few months after the much-publicized police killings of Eric Garner in New York and Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. Facing a tough reelection bid, Emanuel could not afford the negative attention these videos would have garnered. To save his political hide, he tried to bury them along with the truth.
A man who tried to cover up the murder of a Black teenager by a white officer does not belong in an administration that has pledged to unravel systemic racism and repair a democracy never given a chance to be whole.
If Biden hoped to gauge reactions to putting Emanuel in his cabinet as transportation secretary or a lower-profile position like trade representative, the backlash has been immediate. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York tweeted, “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.”
Hiding Emanuel in the bowels of an administration doesn’t overrule the fact that he should get no closer to a White House return than a visitors tour — whenever they resume.
In building his administration, Biden is showing a proclivity toward deep experience and personal familiarity. And Emanuel has both. Known for his brusque, ruthless manner, he was former president Bill Clinton’s senior adviser and assistant to the president, then served as an Illinois congressman. As former president Barack Obama’s first chief of staff, he worked with Biden before leaving after two years to run for mayor in Chicago.
Even before McDonald’s murder, Emanuel turned his back on Black voters who helped him win what he’d often called his dream job. Faced with a $1 billion municipal deficit, he closed 50 schools, most in the city’s predominantly Black neighborhoods, under the guise that it would help the displaced children’s academic prospects. It didn’t.
It also didn’t do much to decrease the city’s deficit. Meanwhile, taxpayers during Emanuel’s two terms paid out more than $540 million to settle abuse and misconduct complaints against Chicago police.
How Biden will govern and what he will prioritize can be read in those he chooses to serve with him. Assembling a cabinet is the prologue to a presidency, and while each selection won’t satisfy everyone, they should at the very least avoid alienating an administration’s most loyal constituency.
Of course, if it’s never your schools being closed, if it’s never your child — or those who look like them — being buried, their lives taken by a police officer who carries not only a badge and gun but an expectation of impunity, it’s easy to focus only on Emanuel’s lengthy political resumé.
Yet those who want to believe Biden when he preaches of an inclusive America rightfully question Emanuel’s ability to be part of progressive change. In one of his best campaign speeches, Biden spoke of the Civil War’s end and said, “By fits and starts, our better angels had prevailed again just enough — just enough against our worst impulses to make a new and better nation. And those better angels can prevail again now.” Emanuel is not one of those angels.
In his memoir, “A Promised Land,” Obama recalls asking Emanuel to join his administration. Although he would eventually take the job, the notoriously profane political veteran first offered an emphatic answer: “No [expletive] way.”
That’s exactly how a lot of us feel about Emanuel having any role in the Biden administration.