Why is Obama not speaking up about Rahm Emanuel's crisis?

Obama has been largely silent on Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel's struggle to maintain control over the city following the release of a video of a black man, Laquan McDonald, being shot dead by police.

REUTERS/Larry Downing /File
US President Barack Obama hugs outgoing White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel (R) in the East Room of the White House in Washington October 1, 2010. At the time, Emanuel was stepping down to run for mayor of Chicago.

“What happened on October 20th, 2014, should never have happened,” Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel began in an emotional speech at a press conference on Wednesday. “I am the mayor as I said the other day, I own it. I take responsibility for what happened because it happened on my watch.”

Emanuel is referring to the death of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald, a black male who was shot by white police officer Jason Van Dyke a year ago. A police squad car captured a video of the shooting, but the video wasn’t released until a freelance journalist in Chicago filed a lawsuit against the city ordering the video's public release.

Chicago saw a series of protests in the days following the release of the video, leading Mayor Rahm Emanuel to fire Garry F. McCarthy, the superintendent of the Chicago police department. 

Now, protesters want Mayor Emanuel to step down also.

On Wednesday protesters flooded downtown Chicago and tried to storm two buildings, chanting “Fire Rahm!” in part of a citywide walkout. They also called for Cook County’s State Attorney, Anita Alvarez, to step down.

Emanuel, who is President Obama’s former chief-of-staff and one of the nation’s most high-profile mayors, has been struggling to regain his grip on Chicago since the video’s release. 

Yet there’s been one voice that has been surprisingly silent on Emanuel’s struggle: President Obama. 

After Laquan McDonald’s shooting was publicized, Mr. Obama expressed his condolences over the “tragic loss.”

Like many Americans, I was deeply disturbed by the footage of the fatal shooting of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald. This Thanksgiving, I ask everybody to keep those who’ve suffered tragic loss in our thoughts and prayers, and to be thankful for the overwhelming majority of men and women in uniform who protect our communities with honor. And I’m personally grateful to the people of my hometown for keeping protests peaceful.” 

But when it comes to defending Emanuel, Obama has been largely silent.

Obama may have left his hometown for D.C., but his popularity in Chicago, which is largely Democratic, remains high. Obama has been a long-time supporter of Emanuel, who served as his Chief of Staff from 2009 to 2010. 

“I could not be prouder of [Rahm] and the extraordinary service that he’s provided,” Obama said in a speech in February after Emanuel helped bring three national parks into the city. Mayor Emanuel was re-elected in a runoff election last April, leading by ten percent.

“The President does have some limitations on what he can say on this manner,” said White House press secretary Josh Earnest on Wednesday. “Given that he is the President of the United States and an attorney general that he appointed is leading an agency that’s conducting an independent investigation. It’s the kind of thing that I think the President intends to speak about more freely once he is the former President of the United States. But until then, his ability to communicate about this at great length is limited.”

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