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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.

Go deeper

Guaranteed income programs are proliferating

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Cities around the country are starting up guaranteed income programs, which pay low-income residents around $300–$600 a month to help improve their lives.

Why it matters: If successful, backers hope these experiments — which bring the idea of guaranteed basic income from the progressive drawing board to reality — could set the stage for a day when unconditional cash stipends are a ubiquitous national safety net.

John Kerry: U.S.-China climate cooperation is a "critical standalone issue"

President Biden's special climate envoy John Kerry said Wednesday that the U.S. must deal with China on climate change as a "critical standalone issue," but stressed that Beijing's human rights and trade abuses "will never be traded" for climate cooperation.

Why it matters: The last few years have brought about a bipartisan consensus on the need for the U.S. to confront China's aggression. But as the world's largest greenhouse gas emitter, China will be a vital player if the world is going to come close to reining in emissions on the scale needed to meet the Paris Agreement goals of limiting warming to 2°C above pre-industrial levels.

In cyber espionage, U.S. is both hunted and hunter

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

American outrage over foreign cyber espionage, like Russia's SolarWinds hack, obscures the uncomfortable reality that the U.S. secretly does just the same thing to other countries.

Why it matters: Secrecy is often necessary in cyber spying to protect sources and methods, preserve strategic edges that may stem from purloined information, and prevent diplomatic incidents.

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