Nov 29, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Rahm Emanuel floated for Transportation secretary

Rahm Emanuel

Rahm Emanuel. Photo: Joshua Lott for The Washington Post via Getty Images

President-elect Biden is strongly considering Rahm Emanuel to run the Department of Transportation, weighing the former Chicago mayor’s experience on infrastructure spending against concerns from progressives over his policing record.

Why it matters: 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.

  • “You're talking about 20–25% of the economy,” former Secretary Ray LaHood told me.

The big picture: Final decisions on Transportation and Housing and Urban Development will happen after the president-elect announces his picks for Defense and Justice, and Cabinet decisions are all interconnected.

  • “Everybody's on hold until they see what the administration is going to do about Rahm,” said LaHood.
  • Mayors appear to dominate the DOT contenders. In addition to Emanuel, sources tell Axios that contenders include LA's Eric Garcetti, Keisha Lance Bottoms of Atlanta and former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg — though each of them also could land elsewhere in his administration.
  • Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has zeroed in on Emanuel, calling him “a pretty divisive pick” in a New York Times interview.
  • Emanuel was mayor of Chicago during the police killing of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald. The police initially called it a justifiable homicide, and the city delayed the release of dashcam footage for over a year. After the footage went public, one officer was convicted of 2nd-degree murder.

Between the lines: While progressive opposition to Emanuel will be fierce, there will be concerns with other candidates, as well.

  • Most of the mayors have faced criticism about policing and criminal justice reform.
  • Black Lives Matters demonstrators have been protesting outside Garcetti’s home for several nights.

But but but: Emanuel’s advocates point to his record in Chicago, where he worked on hiring minorities for a $2.3 billion rail extension project, and he partnered with the Chicago Transportation Authority to bring ex-offenders back into the workforce.

  • Garcetti also can claim credit for finishing a $1.86 billion modernization project for Los Angeles International Airport 18 months ahead of schedule.

Be smart: Where the fight actually matters — in the U.S. Senate — Emanuel may be able to count on some Republican allies who remember him as a White House dealmaker — and a former colleague in the House gym.

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