Joe Biden Needs to Watch Who He Fills His Cabinet With
Rahm Emmanuel. Photo: ABC News/Getty Images

Joe Biden Needs to Watch Who He Fills His Cabinet With

Appointing Rahm Emanuel compromises any claims…

In spite of what you might have heard, Joe Biden was never going to fill his administration with a bunch of “left wing radicals.”

Yet, when he chose Neera Tanden — the current president of the think tank Center for American Progress — to lead the federal Office of Management and Budget, former White House chief of staff (and OMB chief) Mick Mulvaney had something to say about it. “To put someone like Neera Tanden in that office could be sending a strong message that this administration’s going to go hardcore left,” Mulvaney told Fox News.

While it’s an inane and ultimately meaningless turn of phrase, I assume when Mulvaney invoked “hardcore left,” he meant folks with progressive politics. But progressives’ actual reaction to Tanden’s nomination is, uh, mixed. Tanden can count on the support of Senator Elizabeth Warren and Congresswoman Barbara Lee for her nomination, but those aligned with Bernie Sanders’ former campaigns are far less enthused. Regardless of how anyone feels about Tanden’s nomination and her looming confirmation battles (she’s already deleting old tweets), most of us should understand that no matter who Joe Biden nominates, Republicans are going to brand that person as “radical.” They should be ignored like the goofy jackasses the lot of them are.

If Biden is looking to govern from the center, that’s fine, but who you surround yourself with sends a powerful message — and going with a failed politician who tried to cover up the police killing of a Black teenager sounds a lot like a message from the Trump administration.

Still, some of us have genuine concerns about the names being floated for the incoming Biden-Harris administration, and I hope Biden — or those in his orbit — take heed of them.

I anticipated a moderate Democrat like Biden would build an administration that is demographically but not ideologically diverse — multicultural, maybe, but generally center-left. Most announcements thus far, including Tanden, who would be the first Indian American to have the title, suggest that will indeed be the case. Same for the all-female White House communications team, or Black men like Louisiana congressman Cedric Robinson joining as a senior adviser.

The president-elect has kept his word on his administration being a lot less white, male, and kin to Donald Trump. But given that his ascension to the presidency could not have happened without the support of Black voters, it feels like a slap in the face that he added former Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel to the cabinet.

Although Emanuel served as President Obama’s first White House chief of staff, is an alum of the Clinton administration, and is a former congressman, his name rings bells for most these days for his role in burying the truth of the 2014 police shooting of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald. An unarmed Black teen was shot 16 times and Rahm Emanuel helped suppress footage of the killing — footage that exposed police officers’ lies about the shooting — in order to help secure a second term.

Emanuel was so heavily criticized for his role in delaying the release that he abandoned plans to run for mayor a third term — but not from taking high-profile media gigs. It’s bad enough that he’s gotten work at places like ABC News and The Atlantic after making such a choice. Does he really need to be rewarded even more with another opportunity to serve under another Democratic administration?

According to new reporting from Axios, not only is Emanuel still in contention for secretary of transportation, but Biden is “strongly considering” appointing him to the position. I don’t usually think much about Transportation secretary either, but as the piece points out, the job will likely take on new urgency in our current economic hell: “The DOT could effectively become the new Commerce Department, as infrastructure spending, smart cities construction, and the rollout of drone-delivery programs take on increasing economic weight.”

But no matter how high or low the gig is, selecting Rahm Emanuel sends the wrong message.

“What is so hard to understand about this?” Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez wrote on Twitter. “Rahm Emanuel helped cover up the murder of Laquan McDonald. 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.”

The nod would also not fall in line with the apparent goals of the incoming administration.

According to CNN: “Biden’s agenda for his first 100 days in office will, according to both those close to him and outside groups in contact with his top aides, center on two key avenues of action: the passage of a broad economic aid package and, where legislation is not necessary, a series of executive actions aimed at advancing his priorities. Containing the Covid-19 pandemic, launching an economic recovery, and tackling racial inequality are his most urgent priorities, transition officials say.”

I understand Rahm Emanuel has government experience, but as far as tackling racial inequality goes, tapping him is no less offensive than many of Donald Trump’s appointments.

And based on the shitty commentary he gives on TV and in print, Emanuel has learned absolutely nothing. “The progressives said we need a base candidate,” Emanuel told the New York Times last month. “No we didn’t. We needed someone to get swing voters. If you campaign appropriately, you can make that a governing transformation.”

Democrats need their base of supporters to remain invigorated, and men like Rahm Emanuel do not do that. Emanuel was smug when he served on the Hill, he was smug when he worked in the White House, and he somehow managed to be even worse once he became mayor of Chicago. There are some disappointments many of us can suck up and take in stride, but when it comes to Rahm Emanuel joining the cabinet, it feels like a spit in the face.

Other folks Biden is reportedly considering for the role of transportation secretary include Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and former presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg. If Biden is looking to govern from the center, that’s fine, but who you surround yourself with sends a powerful message — and going with a failed politician who tried to cover up the police killing of a Black teenager sounds a lot like a message from the Trump administration.

I understood that if Joe Biden won the election, we were going to get Joe Biden’s politics. They are not my politics, but I chose his over certain death in the general election. But there’s also something to be said of knowing when to let go of some bad habits and those with too much baggage. If Biden can’t deny Emanuel for the sake of Laquan McDonald’s memory, he should at least do so for his own political well-being.