Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke was sentenced to more than six years in jail after fatally shooting the 17-year-old McDonald in an incident that caused officials to lose their jobs and spurred a federal probe. The delayed release of dashboard-camera video of the shooting that came after Emanuel won his second term for mayor — 13 months after the shooting — led to suspicion of Emanuel throughout the city.
The confirmation hearing will take place on Wednesday — the seven-year anniversary of McDonald’s death.
The long shadow cast by the McDonald incident has resulted in tough questions from Democratic senators otherwise prone to supporting a fellow liberal whose nomination appeared otherwise assured due to the support of a handful of Republican senators, including Sen. Susan Collins (Maine).
In private remarks to Senate offices, Emanuel has defended his record and pointed to support from Black community organizations in Chicago as well as McDonald’s family as demonstrated in a letter from an uncle, said multiple people familiar with his meetings.
“[Emanuel] didn’t mention which family member it would come from … but said he’d have this letter and the family will say they are okay with his nomination,” said a Democratic aide from one Senate office.
Senate offices have expressed an interest in seeing the letter, but Emanuel’s team, according to the people familiar with his meetings, said they will not release it until just before the day of his confirmation hearing scheduled for Wednesday.
In response to a request for comment on Monday night, an administration official provided a copy of the Sept. 11 letter signed by the Rev. Marvin Hunter, a pastor at Grace Memorial Baptist Church and McDonald’s great uncle, and addressed to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which will consider Emanuel’s nomination. An administration official noted the letter was provided to the committee’s chairman by Hunter but was not in Emanuel’s possession.
“I realize that my position on this nomination might come as a surprise to some,” Hunter wrote. “I may even be attacked for speaking up. However, I am a man of faith. I believe in what the scripture says about righteous judgment and looking into a person’s heart. I have taken the time to get to know Rahm Emanuel. We have listened to each other, truly heard each other. I understand the character of the man and that is why I support this nomination.”
But Hunter, when reached by The Washington Post earlier in the day on Monday, indicated Emanuel does not have the support of “everyone” in the McDonald family at the moment. Hunter said in an interview he would provide further comment once the family “was in agreement.”
“I talked with my family and we decided to just wait and see,” Hunter told The Washington Post. “I don’t want to get in the heat of a lot of it right now … I just want to stay out of it and let the dust settle.”
Emanuel did not respond to The Post’s request for comment.
Emanuel also touted support from the Chicago Urban League, which told The Post it has not had any recent conversations with Emanuel. “However, we certainly counted him as a partner when he was mayor,” a spokesperson added in an email.
Emanuel may have been referring to a letter that Andrea Zopp, a former president and chief executive of the Chicago Urban League, wrote to the Foreign Relations Committee.
In the letter, which was also obtained by The Post, Zopp praised Emanuel’s record, including his work with the Chicago Urban League to improve minority contracting requirements on the reconstruction of the Chicago Transit Authority’s Red Line, which serves Chicago’s heavily Black South Side.
“I know from firsthand experience that he is fully aligned with the Biden/Harris administration’s commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion, and access,” Zopp wrote in letter.
Emanuel hired Zopp as deputy mayor in 2016 after she left the league. He later tapped her to lead the city’s public-private economic development agency and for the Chicago Police Board.
In an interview, Zopp said she wrote the letter because she didn’t think progressives’ criticism of Emanuel reflected his full mayoral record. “I just didn’t think it was fair to paint him as not caring about issues of importance to communities of color,” she said. “He not only cared about them but did a lot of work on those issues when he was mayor.”
On Tuesday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki was asked how much weight the president placed on Emanuel’s handling of the McDonald police murder before offering him the job.
“The president nominated Rahm Emanuel to serve as ambassador to Japan because he’s somebody who has a record of public service both in Congress serving as a public official in the White House and certainly also as the mayor of Chicago,” Psaki said. She added that she didn’t have any record of Biden speaking to Emanuel during the selection process.
“He didn’t speak with every ambassadorial nominee. Obviously, he’s somebody who he was familiar with,” she said.
Jason Ervin, the chairman of the Chicago Aldermanic Black Caucus, and eight other aldermen who belong to the caucus also sent the committee a letter backing Emanuel, which was obtained by The Post.
“As leaders of the Chicago City Council, having worked alongside Mayor Rahm Emanuel during his eight years of service to the City of Chicago — a city with its own spot on the international stage — we are certain that his service as Ambassador to Japan will provide America with a committed and loyal ally,” the group wrote in a letter dated Oct. 8.
Nonetheless, Emanuel’s confirmation still appears to be up in the air. The breakdown of the Senate — 50 Democrats or independents who caucus with them, and 50 Republicans, with Vice President Harris casting tiebreaking votes — gives individual senators a huge say in Biden’s nominations. And progressive lawmakers like Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) have yet to weigh in on Emanuel’s nomination
“I think a number of senators will be listening closely to concerns raised by activists about Emanuel’s term as Chicago mayor, particularly regarding the coverup of the murder of Laquan McDonald,” said another Democratic staffer on Capitol Hill.
Progressives in the other chamber, including Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), Cori Bush (D-Mo.) and Mondaire Jones (D-N.Y.), have waged an aggressive opposition campaign.
But the former congressman has received support so far from centrist Democrats including Richard J. Durbin (Ill.), a longtime friend, and Sens. Michael F. Bennet (D-Colo.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.).
Republican support for Emanuel might ultimately clinch his confirmation; The Post reported last month that he enjoyed the support of at least three Republican senators.