President-elect Joe Biden’s transition team would not commit to nominating an Asian American for a Cabinet secretary position on Friday, shortly after Asian American lawmakers said failing to do so would be “unacceptable.”
When asked about the nomination request during a press conference Friday, two top transition officials reiterated Biden’s pledge to build a historically diverse Cabinet.
“We’re already on track to have the most diverse cabinet in American history,” transition spokesperson Jen Psaki said. “That is a value that will continue to be important to the president-elect, the vice president-elect and the entire team as further decisions are made.”
Yohannes Abraham, the transition team’s executive director, noted Biden’s plans to nominate Neera Tanden to be director of the Office of Management and Budget and Katherine Tai to be U.S. trade representative. Both are Asian American.
In a statement earlier Friday, the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus applauded the selections of Tanden and Tai, but said nominating Asian Americans or Pacific Islanders for the higher-profile secretary positions was still necessary.
“For the first time in over two decades, we are facing the possibility that there might not be a single AAPI Cabinet Secretary in a presidential administration,” members of the caucus said in a statement. “Let us be clear: that outcome is unacceptable.”
The group pointed out that every president since Bill Clinton in the 1990s has had at least one Asian American Cabinet secretary. President Barack Obama in particular had three Asian American cabinet members.
“To not include an AAPI official as a Cabinet Secretary overseeing a federal department would send the wrong message that AAPIs do not need to be included,” the caucus said. “We already see the exclusion of AAPIs in critical policy conversations regarding the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on communities of color, immigration and racial justice that often overlook our community due to the harmful ‘model minority’ stereotype that paints AAPIs as a monolithic group.”
In a separate letter, Hawaii Sen. Mazie Hirono — one of the Senate’s three Asian American members — specifically pushed Biden to nominate California Labor Secretary Julie Su for the same position at the federal level.
The transition team declined to comment on who is or isn’t under consideration for the labor secretary job, though speculation has centered on Su, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh and Michigan Rep. Andy Levin. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders has also pushed for the job, but Biden has been reluctant to select members of the Senate for key positions so far.
Asian Americans are the nation’s fastest-growing racial group, and overwhelmingly supported Biden over incumbent GOP President Donald Trump and were key to his victories in the swing states of Nevada and Georgia.
Biden’s pledge to build the most diverse Cabinet in American history, in addition to pressure from Black, Latinx and Asian American lawmakers, has helped shape the transition process and Biden’s picks for top jobs.
Black lawmakers, including South Carolina Rep. James Clyburn, a close Biden ally, pushed for the nominations of retired Gen. Lloyd Austin as secretary of defense and of Rep. Marcia Fudge as head of the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Of Biden’s 14 Cabinet-level nominations so far, seven have gone to women and nine have gone to people of color.