Senate confirms Rahm Emanuel as ambassador to Japan, plus dozens more Biden nominees
Dozens confirmed to ambassador posts after Ted Cruz refused for months to consider them. In its final business of the year, the Senate confirmed Rahm Emanuel, the controversial former Chicago mayor and White House chief of staff, as ambassador to Japan early Saturday morning on a bipartisan vote.
Emanuel’s confirmation came as Senate Democrats struck a deal with Republicans to advance dozens of other Biden administration nominees, including ambassadors to major U.S. allies that had been sitting in limbo because of opposition from Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), who sought to force a vote that could block the Russian-owned Nord Stream 2 pipeline.
After days of fits and starts, an agreement finally came together early Saturday morning as senators of both parties itched to begin their holiday recess. Democrats agreed to a pipeline vote next month in return for the confirmation of nearly 50 ambassadors — including envoys to Ireland, Switzerland, Sweden and the European Union — plus several other Biden administration nominees.
The deal came as Democrats muscled through nine new district judges in floor votes Friday and Saturday and set up final confirmation votes for two judges to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, Holly A. Thomas and Gabriel P. Sanchez, in January.
Emanuel was the only State Department nominee to require a roll-call vote, however — a reflection of his hard-charging style and the opposition he had generated from both Republicans and Democrats, who raised particular concern about his tenure as mayor and his handling of the 2018 murder of Laquan McDonald by a Chicago police officer.
Three of the most liberal Senate Democrats — Edward J. Markey (Mass.), Jeff Merkley (Ore.) and Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) — voted against Emanuel’s confirmation. A fourth liberal who had considered opposing the nomination, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), did not vote.
But eight Republicans backed Emanuel, giving the confirmation breathing room on a night when more than 30 senators were absent because of the impending holiday break. The final vote was 48-21.
“I think people realize in that region of the world right now, we need some guys that are kind of no-nonsense,” said Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), one of the Republicans who backed Emanuel.
After senators cleared Emanuel and the judges, 56 other nominees were confirmed Saturday morning by voice votes. The Senate is not scheduled to be back in full session until Jan. 3, when Democrats are hoping to advance major pieces of unfinished business that have been firmly opposed by Republicans — the sweeping domestic policy bill known as Build Back Better and a pair of voting rights bills.
In early-morning remarks Saturday, Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) did not lay out any new plans for advancing those bills but praised the progress on nominations.
While the Saturday deal cleared some of the backlog, more than 100 Biden nominees remain on the Senate calendar awaiting floor action. Many of those will have to be returned to the White House and renominated in 2022, leading to further delays.
“It’s been a long day, but a good day’s work,” Schumer said just before 2 a.m. “I thank my colleagues.”