Has he? If so, this is an awkward time to raise this particular complaint — although it looks more like an attempt to exploit a momentary public passion. Less than a day after Senate Democrats confirmed the final Cabinet official in Joe Biden’s administration, two Senate Democrats accused Biden of failing their expectations of diversity, Axios reported this afternoon:
Two Democratic senators of Asian American and Pacific Islander heritage confronted a senior White House official Monday night over the absence of AAPI representation in President Biden’s Cabinet, four Senate aides familiar with the call tell Axios.
Behind the scenes: Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), backed up by Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), leveled the complaint to deputy chief of staff Jen O’Malley Dillon during a Zoom call between the White House and the Senate Democratic Caucus.
- Hours earlier, Biden finalized the permanent secretaries of the 15 executive departments when the Senate confirmed former Boston Mayor Marty Walsh as Labor secretary.
- Duckworth noted that the Cabinet lacks a single AAPI member, according to four Senate Democratic aides briefed on the call. Hirono backed her up.
This gap might have been filled had Biden not withdrawn Neera Tanden at OMB, but it looked as if she was about to face a humiliating Senate rejection. Arguably, US trade representative Katherine Tai does fill that gap, as Biden has raised the USTR position to Cabinet level. Tai was confirmed unanimously last week, becoming the first woman of color or Asian-American in that position. (Tai’s parents were born in China, in fact.) But Axios notes that Asian-American Democrats wanted an actual Secretary position for representation in Biden’s government:
Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) lawmakers are pushing for President-elect Biden to nominate California Labor Secretary Julie Su to head the U.S. Department of Labor.
Why it matters: Biden has been pulled in multiple directions by different stakeholders as he looks to follow through on appointing the “single-most diverse” Cabinet in U.S. history. AAPI lawmakers have escalated their calls in recent weeks, with Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.) on Friday urging Biden to include an AAPI Cabinet secretary.
What they’re saying: “Including an AAPI at this highest level of government, as Presidents Clinton, Bush, Obama, and Trump have done, is a recognition of the AAPI community’s impact and contributions to our nation,” Chu, who chairs the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC), said in a statement.
If that’s the case, then Tanden wouldn’t have sufficed either, but Hirono and Duckworth had plenty of time to complain. The push for Chu came in December; Biden picked Walsh shortly afterward. By January 12 his complete Cabinet was assembled, and remarkably Biden got his full Cabinet confirmed with the exception of Tanden. He’s the first president since Ronald Reagan to get all of his first picks in the traditional Cabinet positions confirmed, which is an accomplishment indeed given the 50/50 Senate split.
All of which raises the question as to why these Senate Democrats are objecting to this now. Why didn’t they go public in mid-January, before Biden formally submitted any of his Cabinet nominations to the Senate? And if that didn’t work, why didn’t Hirono and Duckworth take action against Walsh and torpedo his confirmation in order to get Chu in place at Labor? Walsh had plenty of bipartisan support in his 68/29 confirmation vote, but does anyone doubt that Republicans might have balked at voting aye if two Democrats had publicly opposed Walsh’s nomination? Mitch McConnell would have been all over that.
This protest looks much more like an attempt to exploit the current hype about discrimination against Asian-Americans rather than a principled dissent. Did Hirono or Duckworth vote against any of Biden’s Cabinet picks? If not, then aren’t they complicit in this alleged dismissal of Asian-Americans themselves? It certainly doesn’t appear to have animated them until now, when it’s too late to do anything about it. In other words, this is empty posturing for public relations, as well as closing the barn door months after the horse has bolted.
Update: More posturing from Duckworth, who’s now threatening to block “non-diversity” nominees until she sees more AAPI candidates. Sometime.
Duckworth says without a plan from the White House on getting more AAPI representation she’s a no vote on the floor on all “non-diversity” nominees. However, this won’t pertain to most of the nominees this week
— Burgess Everett (@burgessev) March 23, 2021
Yeah, no rush on taking that principled stand.