Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel visits WSJ at Large with Gerry Baker at Fox Business Network studios on August 1, 2019 in New York City.
Steven Ferdman | Getty Images
President Joe Biden is considering former Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel for a high-profile ambassadorship, possibly to China, three people with knowledge of the discussions said.
Becoming the US ambassador to Japan is another option that officials in the Biden administration have discussed with Emanuel, one of those with knowledge of the said discussions.
Emanuel, who became White House Chief of Staff when Barack Obama took office, has a reputation for being a keen political street fighter. He has at times clashed with progressive Democrats.
He is also a well-known figure in democratic politics who would promote an ambassadorship. Biden is considering him for an important diplomatic position as government officials look to fill dozens of job openings in capitals around the world, with decisions expected in the coming weeks.
There is precedent for selecting political figures with bold names to represent the US in both Beijing and Tokyo. Obama chose the Utah administration, a Republican, Jon Huntsman, as its ambassador to China – a move in which Emanuel played a role as White House chief of staff. Long-serving former Senator Max Baucus, D-Mont., Also held the role in Beijing during Obama’s second term, and was succeeded by former Iowa Governor Terry Branstad during the Trump administration.
Japan – an ally of the US – has come to appreciate and even expect a flashy name as an ambassador, seeing it as a sign of the importance that a US president places on the relationship. Caroline Kennedy filled the role during Obama’s first term, for example. Former Vice President Walter Mondale was the US Ambassador to Japan during the Clinton administration, and former Republican Senate Leader Howard Baker of Tennessee was in Tokyo during President George W. Bush’s administration.
Another person familiar with the discussions said Emanuel’s name was also mentioned internally for the US ambassador to Israel. But, this person said, the idea was considered unworkable because of Emanuel’s notoriously shaky relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who dates back to his time as Obama’s chief of staff.
Emanuel and the White House did not comment. A spokesman for the State Department did not respond to a request for comment.
Emanuel was a Democratic Congressman when Obama appointed him chief of staff in 2009. He left the White House to run for mayor of Chicago in 2011 and held the position until 2019 after deciding not to seek a third term. He was reportedly considered transport secretary by the Biden team, but was ultimately not nominated for a cabinet post.
It’s unclear how some Democrats would respond to Emanuel being given a critical ambassadorship. Often times, such roles go to key political allies and fundraisers or to experts in a particular country or region.