Rahm Emanuel won't be Transportation secretary, but he's in talks with Biden's team for 'high-level ambassadorships'

  • Former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel — who also served as President Barack Obama's first chief of staff — has been vying for his preferred Cabinet role as Transportation secretary.
  • But since he's gotten word that he will not be Transportation secretary,  Emanuel has expressed interest in ambassadorships, according to a former top Democratic administration official.
  • He is in discussion with the transition team about a range of roles, including "high-level ambassadorships abroad," according to a source familiar with Biden's appointments who spoke on the condition of anonymity. 
  • The prospect of President-elect Joe Biden adding Emanuel to his administration sparked some backlash, last month, including from New York Democrat Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel may not be getting his preferred Cabinet position as Joe Biden's Transportation secretary. But it looks like he still could land a job in the new administration. 

Emanuel is in discussions with the incoming president's team about a range of roles, including "high-level ambassadorships abroad," according to a source familiar with Biden's appointments who spoke on the condition of anonymity. 

Emanuel expressed interest in ambassadorships, according to a former top Democratic administration official, after being informed he would not be getting the Department of Transportation top job.  His experience as former White House chief of staff to former President Barack Obama is a key reason he's still in play.

Insider earlier this month reported that Emanuel had been vying for the DOT, including by making calls to the Illinois congressional delegation to help his chances. But several sources told Insider he's no longer a contender for that role. And CNN this week reported that former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg is emerging as the top pick for the transportation job. 

Buttigieg's name was also floated for US ambassador to the United Nations or to China. But Biden last month named diplomat Linda Thomas-Greenfield for the UN job. 

Biden has not yet announced his choice for the China ambassadorship.

As mayor, Emanuel in 2018 traveled to China and said he had salvaged a $1.3 billion rail car contract that was the largest in the history of the Chicago Transit Authority, despite President Donald Trump's trade war with that country, the Chicago Sun-Times reported. 

During that trip, Emanuel met with Chinese Vice President Wang Qishan and executives from the railcar manufacturer CRRC Sifang.

Emanuel declined to comment when asked whether he was being considered for a job as an ambassador.

Then-White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel is pictured in the Oval Office on May 28, 2009, with then-Vice President Joe Biden and then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Emanuel's allies say he has the resume for a number of jobs in a Biden administration.Photo by Michael Reynolds-Pool/Getty Images

Opposition to an Emanuel nomination

Reports of Emanuel being floated by the Biden administration stirred up some public backlash, especially on social media.

His time as mayor was partly tainted by his handling of the 2014 killing of Laquan McDonald, a 17-year-old boy who was shot 16 times by a white police officer. 

The city did not make public the dashcam video showing the shooting until after Emanuel had won re-election. The delay and timing of the release sparked massive backlash and throngs of protests on the streets of Chicago. 

Emanuel has apologized for the shooting and said he didn't see the dashcam video until it was publicly released. 

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is among many critics of Emanuel who publicly opposed his potential nomination for a Biden Cabinet role.

On November 23, the New York Democrat tweeted that it was "shameful and concerning" that the former mayor could be tapped to become DOT secretary.

"What is so hard to understand about this?" Ocasio-Cortez added in the tweet to her 10.7 million followers. "Rahm Emanuel helped cover up the murder of Laquan McDonald. Covering up a murder is disqualifying for public leadership."

The president of the NAACP also issued a statement warning that Emanuel's "actions and approach to governing are detrimental to the Biden administration and, more importantly, the American people." 

But Emanuel is an established Democratic power player and his backers say he has the resume needed for any number of Biden administration appointments. He also has a close relationship with both Biden and Ron Klain, the incoming White House chief of staff. 

The former mayor also served as a three-term congressman and as Bill Clinton's 1992 campaign finance director and top advisor.

Biden's transition team declined to comment on whether it's considering Emanuel for a job as ambassador.

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