The White House said late Tuesday that it will add a senior-level Asian American Pacific Islander liaison after an ultimatum from Sens. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) and Mazie Hirono (D-HI) who vowed to vote no on nominees due to a lack of AAPI representation in President Biden’s Cabinet.
“The President has made it clear that his Administration will reflect the diversity of the country. That has always been, and remains our goal,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement. “The White House will add a senior level Asian American Pacific Islander liaison, who will ensure the community’s voice is further represented and heard.”
The pledge comes after both Democratic senators vowed to withhold their votes on some nominees until Biden more vigorously addressed the issue of growing racism and anti-Asian violence days after a suspected Georgia man gunned down eight people including six women of Asian descent last week.
There are no Asian Americans or Pacific Islanders among the 15 of Biden’s Cabinet secretary slots — which has been a point of contention. Rep. Mark Takano (D-CA) told PBS NewsHour in January that Biden had “erred” in the omission.
“As much as I view myself as a friendly ally of this president, I think he’s erred in [that] he has chosen to exclude Asian Americans from his 15 Cabinet secretaries,” Takano said.
Psaki in December had touted Biden’s Cabinet nominees, saying the administration was “already on track to have the most diverse Cabinet in American history.”
In an ultimatum on Tuesday, Duckworth said she would oppose Biden’s future “non-diversity” nominees unless the White House committed to a plan to tap more nominees of Asian or Pacific Islander descent for high-level positions in the administration.
“I am not going to be voting for any nominees from the White House other than diversity nominees,” Duckworth said, according to HuffPost. “I’ll be a ‘No’ on everyone until they figure this out.”
Following the White House’s late-night statement, Ben Garmisa, a spokesman for Duckworth, said in a statement that the senator appreciated the White House’s “assurances that it will do much more to elevate AAPI voices and perspectives at the highest levels of government.”
According to Duckworth’s spokesman, the White House had promised that its new appointee would work both to confirm more Asian American and Pacific Islander nominees and to advance legislation that was “relevant and important to the community.”
“Accordingly, she will not stand in the way of President Biden’s qualified nominees — which will include more AAPI leaders,” the spokesman said of Duckworth.
In a tweet late Tuesday Hirono said that she welcomed the appointment of a liasion to “further strengthen our voice.”
She said that based a private conversation she had with the White House she would also “continue voting to confirm the historic and highly qualified nominees President Biden has appointed to serve in his administration.”
Based on the private conversation we had, I will continue voting to confirm the historic and highly qualified nominees President Biden has appointed to serve in his administration.
— Senator Mazie Hirono (@maziehirono) March 24, 2021