It Pays to Be Rahm Emanuel

Rahm Emanuel has been at the center of nearly every act of Democratic evildoing of the past few decades. He's being rewarded for that behavior with an ambassadorship to Japan.

Former White House chief of staff and Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel in New York City, 2019. (Steven Ferdman / Getty Images)

President Joe Biden’s nomination of Rahm Emanuel for an ambassadorship in Japan raises two questions: What qualifications does the former Chicago mayor have for the job, and what has he been doing since his last stint in government?

The answers suggest his nomination is a payoff for helping Democratic financiers cement business relationships with Japanese officials — and for helping to kill Medicare for All in a way that boosted both Biden’s election chances and Emanuel’s own bank account.

Enjoying Suntory Time And Killing Medicare For All

On the question of relevant qualifications, it seems Emanuel’s most pertinent experience was using his municipal office to help connect Democratic Party donors and corporate lobbyists with Japanese government officials during a junket — one that occurred just before he left office in disgrace amid revelations that his administration buried a video of police murdering a teenager. Emanuel also pushed to privatize and offshore the Chicago water system’s customer service to a Japanese corporation, and touted a business partnership between his city government and Japanese officials.

Oh, and Emanuel also had a sushi roll named after him and once had cocktails with Suntory executives, so there’s that.

On the question of what Emanuel has been doing since leaving office in disgrace, the answer is just as notable: He helped Biden defang the Medicare for All movement, while profiting off the private health insurance system.

Back in 2010, Emanuel worked to undermine a promised public option as President Barack Obama’s chief of staff. Nine years later — just after leaving office in disgrace — he was given a job at an investment bank that works with health care corporations.

Then, as the 2020 Democratic presidential primary kicked off, Emanuel began attacking Medicare for All in the media. In a September 2019 appearance on ABC’s This Week, Emanuel called the policy “untenable.” The following month, he authored a Washington Post op-ed headlined, “Medicare-for-All is a Pipe Dream.”

The op-ed was released just as Biden was trying to fight off a primary challenge from Medicare for All champion Bernie Sanders.

Within months of publishing the op-ed, Emanuel was rewarded with a board seat by GoHealth — a company he had promoted as mayor, and whose business is built on profits reaped by getting private health insurance corporations more customers.

As millions of Americans were thrown off their health insurance during the pandemic last year — and as health insurance industry profits skyrocketed — Emanuel was granted more than 180,000 shares in the company, according to Securities and Exchange Commission documents reviewed by the Daily Poster. Last year alone, Emanuel was paid more than $763,000 in cash and stock compensation by the company, according to corporate documents.

After Emanuel helped destroy Medicare for All and was then placed on GoHealth’s board, the company explicitly warned investors that Medicare for All poses a significant threat to its profits.

“There are renewed and reinvigorated calls for health insurance reform, which could cause significant uncertainty in the U.S. healthcare market, could increase our costs, decrease our revenues, or inhibit our ability to sell our products,” the company wrote in its annual report filed with financial regulators. “In particular, because our platform provides customers with a venue to shop for insurance policies from a curated panel of the nation’s leading carriers, the expansion of government-sponsored coverage through ‘Medicare-for-All’ or the implantation of a single payer system may materially and adversely impact our business, operating results, financial condition, and prospects.”

“A Tale Of Money And Power”

Emanuel’s most recent moves mixing public policy advocacy with private profiteering mimic the rest of his career.

He started out as an aide in Bill Clinton’s White House and then quickly got himself an investment banking job with politically connected financiers. The Chicago Tribune reported that him making “more than $16 million in just 2 1/2 years is a tale of money and power, of leverage and connections, of a stunningly successful conversion of moxie, and a network of political contacts into cold, hard cash.”

After stints in Congress and as Obama’s top aide, he became best known for being the Chicago mayor who closed schoolsprivatized public infrastructure, raked in campaign cash from financial industry donors profiting off his city’s pension funds, and oversaw a police department that set up a secret interrogation site and murdered seventeen-year-old black teenager Laquan McDonald.

Emanuel’s administration suppressed the video of McDonald’s killing until after he was reelected mayor. The cover-up prompted fierce backlash from civil rights activists and progressives when media outlets reported that Emanuel’s name was on Biden’s shortlist for transportation secretary back in November. He was ultimately passed over for the position.

You can subscribe to David Sirota’s investigative journalism project, the Daily Poster, here.

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David Sirota is editor-at-large at Jacobin. He edits the Daily Poster newsletter and previously served as a senior adviser and speechwriter on Bernie Sanders's 2020 presidential campaign.

Walker Bragman is a journalist and JD whose work has been featured in Paste Magazine, the Intercept, HuffPost, the Independent, Salon, Truthout, and the Hill.

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