Rahm preps for his diplomatic debut

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Rahm preps for his diplomatic debut

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Welcome to POLITICO’s West Wing Playbook, your guide to the people and power centers in the Biden administration. With help from Allie Bice.

It may not be final, but RAHM EMANUEL is actively preparing for an ambassadorship post to Japan by gobbling up Japanese news and meeting with foreign policy experts.

According to multiple sources familiar with the process as well as published reports, the former congressman, White House chief of staff, political adviser, commentator, author, sender of revenge fish and controversial two-time Chicago mayor is poised to be President JOE BIDEN’S pick for the ambassadorship.

But a White House official cautioned on Wednesday that, “no one is final until they’re announced.”

There are rumblings that an announcement will come soon, although the White House would not confirm that. It will undoubtedly draw pushback. Previous reports that Emanuel was under consideration for various posts in the Biden administration prompted progressive outrage, primarily focused on his handling of the 2014 murder of 17-year-old LAQUAN McDONALD by a Chicago policeman. Emanuel made public the gruesome dashcam footage only after a judge ordered city attorneys to release it. That and his highly partisan history could complicate his confirmation in the narrowly divided Senate.

Emanuel, however, is proceeding as though he’s Tokyo-bound. He has been meeting with IVO DAALDER — president of the Chicago Council on Foreign Affairs and a former U.S. ambassador to NATO — who has organized briefings for him with experts on Japan’s economy, military, national security and U.S.-Japan affairs. And he’s met with RICHARD HAASS, president of the Council on Foreign Relations.

Emanuel is also talking to MICHAEL GREEN at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, according to someone with direct knowledge of Emanuel’s preparation. Green is also the director of Asian studies at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service. Green served in the National Security Council from 2001 until 2005, specializing in Asian affairs.

There are also frequent meetings with JOSEPH NYE, former assistant secretary of Defense for international security affairs under President BILL CLINTON.

In addition to those meetings, Emanuel, who consumes a heap of newspapers before the sun comes out, is prepping by reading Japanese press.

“He’s just been getting translated Japanese news every day — tons — and just devouring all the Japanese press and studying,” the source with direct knowledge said. “The foreign policy information in their local press but also national security, local issues, and just really getting steeped in it in preparation.”

Emanuel declined to comment on the ambassadorship or his preparation.

Many close to Emanuel say they’re not surprised he’s interested in the post. He’s preternaturally incapable of settling down in a slow-paced, cushy job. He remains drawn to public service, and he has embraced professional challenges in every iteration of his life.

Ambassador to Japan wasn’t Emanuel’s first choice. His preferred gig — transportation secretary — went to PETE BUTTIGIEG. But it’s a prestigious nomination that gets him squarely back into the upper echelons of federal government; that is, if he’s confirmed.

Japan is no stranger to political appointees nabbing ambassadorships. Former Senate Majority Leader MIKE MANSFIELD, former Vice President WALTER MONDALE, former Speaker of the House TOM FOLEY and former first daughter CAROLINE KENNEDY are among the list of former U.S. ambassadors to Japan.

And Emanuel’s ties to the Biden administration would prove useful should he end up in Tokyo. He remains close to the president and his three top aides, RON KLAIN, STEVE RICCHETTI and BRUCE REED.

His assignment would signal to Japan that they will have access to Biden heavy hitters at a time when good relations with the country is one of the administration’s top priorities (Japanese Prime Minister YOSHIHIDE SUGA was the first head of state to meet with Biden in person).

But there’s apparently some concern over Emanuel — and his colorful vocabulary and sharp elbows— taking over the high-profile role.

“There certainly are quiet concerns that are being whispered,” Brett Bruen, a former diplomat who served in the Obama administration, said. “Nobody’s going to come out from the Japanese government and want to offend the Biden administration, but I think they worry that he will step into some minefields, and potentially onto some mines.”

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With the Partnership for Public Service

More Independence Day trivia — which two presidents died on July 4th in the same year?

(Answer at the bottom.)

The Oval

BREAKING — CHRIS CADELAGO, DANIEL LIPPMAN and EUGENE DANIELS report that Vice President KAMALA HARRIS’ team is experiencing low morale, porous lines of communication and diminished trust among aides and senior officials. Much of the frustration internally is directed at TINA FLOURNOY, Harris’ chief of staff, a veteran of Democratic politics who began working for her earlier this year.

WHAT THE WHITE HOUSE WANTS YOU TO READ: The White House blasted out an Axios story documenting support from business leaders for the infrastructure deal.

Blackstone, Bechtel, Siemens and UPS signaled they want the deal to succeed, “particularly since it doesn’t include tax increases,” Axios’ ALAYNA TREENE and HANS NICHOL noted in the story.

The White House shared the link paired with supportive statements from organized labor, including the AFL-CIO and the Laborers’ International Union of North America.

WHAT THE WHITE HOUSE DOESN’T WANT YOU TO READ: An Associated Press story by EDITH M. LEDERER notes that the U.S. and Iran are not making progress in their talks to recommit to the 2015 nuclear agreement aimed at slowing Tehran’s path to a nuclear weapon. President DONALD TRUMP pulled the U.S. out of the agreement in 2018, but Biden wants to return to the pact.

“In the Security Council on Wednesday, diplomats from Iran and the United States took tough stands, giving no hint of compromise during a meeting on implementation of the 2015 council resolution that endorsed the nuclear agreement,” AP writes. “The 2015 accord is aimed at preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons, which Tehran denies it is seeking.”

Filling the Ranks

YOU’RE HIRED — About a week after KIRAN AHUJA was sworn in as director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, a team follows.

The federal human resources agency on Wednesday named ANNE HARKAVY — the founding executive director of Democracy Forward Foundation — its chief of staff; and CAROLINE CICCONE — former executive director of watchdog group Accountable.US — is the director of communications. DAVID MARSH, former senior adviser to the chief of staff at OPM, was named deputy chief of staff.

Vice President Harris last week cast the tiebreaking vote to confirm Ahuja. The office had five different directors during the Trump administration.

ICYMI: RANDY MOORE has been nominated to lead the U.S. Forest Service, making him the first African American forest chief, AP’s MATTHEW DALY reports. Moore has served as a regional forester for the Pacific Southwest Region since 2007. He’ll be replacing VICKI CHRISTIANSEN upon her retirement on July 26th.

Agenda Setting

POLITICS ALWAYS SEEP IN — MARC CAPUTO previews Biden’s trip to Florida on Thursday, where both the president and “top-tier potential presidential candidate” Florida Gov. RON DeSANTIS are trying to put partisan politics aside amid the collapse of the Champlain Towers South condominium in Surfside.

Biden will meet with the families of the dead and missing on the trip, his first to Florida as president. CNN on Wednesday reported the latest tally is 16 dead and 147 people still missing.

“Insiders in both administrations say they’re focusing on the crisis in Surfside, not on scoring political points,” Caputo writes. “But regardless of how the governor, president and staffs comport themselves, there are political pitfalls and consequences that have lasting electoral effects…”

What We’re Reading

The State Dept. will no longer require medical documents proving gender for U.S. passport applicants (The New York Times’ Lara Jakes)

Amazon seeks recusal of FTC Chair Khan, a longtime company critic (Washington Post’s Jay Greene and Rachel Lerman)

FEMA changes rules for Covid-19 funeral aid program amid outcry (Politico’s Erin Banco)

Where’s Joe

He delivered remarks at an event on drought, heat and wildfires in the West.

In-person attendees included Interior Secretary DEB HAALAND, Agriculture Secretary TOM VILSACK, Energy Secretary JENNIFER GRANHOLM, DHS Secretary ALEJANDRO MAYORKAS, EPA Administrator MICHAEL REGAN, Deputy Defense Secretary KATHLEEN HICKS, climate adviser GINA MCCARTHY and assistant to the president for homeland security LIZ SHERWOOD-RANDALL.

Where’s Kamala

Harris spoke at Generation Equality Forum and later joined the president at his event.

The Oppo Book

GENE SPERLING, the economist helping Biden oversee the government’s spending of coronavirus relief funds, has held an array of titles over the years. He’s worked for former Presidents BARACK OBAMA and Bill Clinton, and even as a writer and consultant on NBC’s “The West Wing.”

You’d never guess what his first gig was, though.

“I got to be a ball boy for Michigan’s basketball team in [the] Crisler arena,” he explained in a 2012 video posted by the Obama White House. “I picked the balls up when they were shooting at the end. We got to sweep the court at half time, and at the end of every game, we got to go into the locker room and throw their dirty socks and uniforms into the laundry bin.”

For Sperling and his friends, the tasks were a small slice of heaven; or, as he put it: “way cool, very exciting.”

“It was years later that I started to understand why my father and his friends would kind of smile when we would brag about throwing away their sweaty, dirty underwear,” he said.

We can’t believe it took years to realize that, Gene.

Trivia Answer

JOHN ADAMS and THOMAS JEFFERSON both died on July 4th, 1826. (Yes, we know, we need to up our trivia game).

We want your tips, but we also want your feedback. What should we be covering in this newsletter that we’re not? What are we getting wrong? Please let us know.

Edited by Emily Cadei

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Biden eyes former Japan envoy Caroline Kennedy as U.S. ambassador to Australia

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President Joe Biden plans to nominate Caroline Kennedy, daughter of the late President John F. Kennedy, as U.S. ambassador to Australia, CNN reported on Friday, citing three unidentified people familiar with the process.

The White House declined to comment on the report.

Kennedy threw her support behind Biden’s 2020 presidential bid in February of that year, writing that the former vice president was more prepared for the job than his rivals.

Kennedy previously served as U.S. ambassador to Japan under former Democratic President Barack Obama. The first female U.S. ambassador to Japan, Kennedy was an early and prominent supporter of Obama in his initial quest for the presidency in 2008, and also campaigned for him.

Media reports in May said that Biden will tap former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who served as White House chief of staff for Obama, as his ambassador to Japan.

Any decision to nominate Emanuel, known more for his sharp tongue than his foreign policy chops, would signal the importance the Biden administration places on the U.S. alliance with Japan as Washington lays the groundwork for a strategy to deal with challenges presented by China.

Biden nominates LA Mayor Eric Garcetti for India ambassador

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The White House says President Joe Biden is nominating Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti to serve as ambassador to India, selecting a high-profile ally to serve in one of the most difficult diplomatic posts

President Joe Biden has nominated Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti to serve as ambassador to India, the White House said Friday, selecting a high-profile ally to serve in one of the most difficult diplomatic posts.

Garcetti, if confirmed, would be dispatched to India as it has been overwhelmed by a surge in coronavirus infections and deaths.

The White House also announced Friday that Biden is nominating Democratic fundraiser Denise Bauer to serve as ambassador to France and Monaco, career foreign service officer Peter Haas to serve as ambassador to Bangladesh and former Obama-era national security aide Bernadette Meehan to serve as ambassador to Chile.

Garcetti, who considered a 2020 White House bid and later became part of Biden’s inner circle, emerged as a widely discussed possibility to join Biden’s Cabinet last year. But he took himself out of the running, saying the raging coronavirus crisis made it impossible for him to step away.

The two-term mayor would leave LA with an uneven record. He has been credited with continuing a transit buildup in a city choked with traffic, establishing tougher earthquake safety standards for thousands of buildings and steering the city though the deadly pandemic as it became a hot spot for infections. Cases have fallen steeply in the city and some restrictions have been rolled back, consistent with the trajectory in the state.

But Garcetti was overmatched by a crisis of homelessness that became a national embarrassment despite the massive jump in government spending to fight it. Many streets and sidewalks remain cratered and crumbling, despite his early pledge to make fixing them a cornerstone of his administration.

A lawsuit alleges that a former top staffer sexually harassed one of the mayor’s police bodyguards while Garcetti ignored it or laughed it off. The mayor denies the claims. One of his former deputy mayors was also indicted on corruption charges in an ongoing federal investigation at City Hall. And as is the case in many large cities, the crime rate in LA is spiking.

In picking Garcetti, Biden is rewarding a loyalist who was one of his national campaign co-chairs, who served on the committee that vetted his pool of vice presidential contenders and who served as one of several co-chairs for Biden’s inaugural committee.

Garcetti said in a statement that the nomination presents him with another opportunity at public service in a career that also includes 12 years in the Los Angeles City Council, several years as a Naval Reserve officer and time as an assistant professor of diplomacy and world affairs.

“Part of that commitment means that when your nation calls, you answer that call,” Garcetti said. “And should I be confirmed, I’ll bring this same energy, commitment, and love for this city to my new role and will forge partnerships and connections that will help Los Angeles.”

Bauer, who served as ambassador to Belgium, is a prominent Democratic fundraiser. She served as executive director of Women for Biden during his last run for the White House. She served in a similar role in President Barack Obama’s 2012 campaign.

Haas, whose career at the State Department includes stints across five geographical bureaus and as consul general in Mumbai, currently serves as acting assistant secretary of state and as principal deputy assistant secretary for economic and business affairs.

Meehan, who is the executive vice president of global programs for the Obama Foundation, spent over a decade as a foreign service officer and was a National Security Council spokesperson during the Obama administration.

Biden has stepped up ambassadorial nominations in recent weeks.

Among his other picks are former Interior Secretary Ken Salazar as ambassador to Mexico, former Deputy Secretary of State Tom Nides as ambassador to Israel, and retired airline pilot Chesley ”Sully” Sullenberger, most famous for negotiating the emergency landing of a US Airways plane on the Hudson River in 2009 with no fatalities, to serve as U.S. representative on the Council of the International Civil Aviation Organization.

Biden is also expected to nominate former longtime State Department official Nicholas Burns to serve as his ambassador to China and former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel to serve as ambassador to Japan, according to a person familiar with the decisions who was not authorized to comment publicly on the matter and spoke on condition of anonymity.


Associated Press writers Michael R. Blood in Los Angeles and Michael Balsamo in Washington contributed to this report.