Sen. Tammy Duckworth says she’s done voting for any of President Biden’s nominees that aren’t diverse until his administration “figures out” a solution to the lack of Asian American or Pacific Islander (AAPI) representation at the Cabinet level of his administration.
“There’s no AAPI representation and in the cabinet, there’s not a single AAPI in a cabinet position. That’s not acceptable. That’s what I told the White House,” the Democratic senator from Illinois told reporters on Capitol Hill on Tuesday. “President Biden will be the first president in 20 years without a cabinet secretary who’s AAPI.”
Duckworth, an Iraq War veteran who was wounded in combat and who is the first native of Thailand elected to Congress, said she shared her concerns with White House officials in a meeting on Monday night and in a follow-up conversation on Tuesday morning.
“I’ve been talking to them for months. And they’re still not aggressive. So I am not going to be voting for any nominee from the White House, other than diverse nominees. I’ll be a ‘no’ on every one until they figure this out,” the senator emphasized.
Democratic Sen. Mazie Hirono, the first Asian American woman elected to the Senate, later joined Duckworth in refusing to confirm “non-diversity” nominees until Biden committed to great AAPI representation in his administration.
“We would like to have a commitment…from the White House that there’ll be more diversity representation in the cabinet, and in senior White House positions, and until that happens, we will be, I will be joining her in voting no on non-diversity nominees,” said the Democrat from Hawaii who joined Duckworth on the Monday evening call with the White House.
Duckworth’s comments come amid a national discussion over AAPI discrimination and targeting, following last week’s mass shooting in Georgia, where six of the eight people slain were Asian American women.
The permanent secretaries of the 15 executive departments were finalized on Monday evening when the Senate confirmed Boston Mayor Marty Walsh as Labor Secretary.
At roughly 55% non-white and 45% female, Biden’s cabinet is historically diverse. But the cabinet does not include any AAPI members.
Vice President Kamala Harris is the first female and first Asian American and Black American elected vice president in the nation’s history. And last week Katherine Tai was unanimously confirmed by the Senate as the first woman of color and first Asian American to serve as U.S. trade representative. While both positions are cabinet-level, they are not technically considered cabinet secretaries.
Duckworth said that she was told by the White House that “you have Kamala Harris. We’re very proud of her. You don’t need anybody else, is insulting.”
“That was the trigger for me. But multiple times I’ve heard that,” the senator added. “And that is not something you would say to the Black caucus – well you have Kamala, we’re not going to put any more African Americans in the cabinet because you have Kamala. Why would you say it to AAPI?”
Asked about her reaction, HIrono told reporters “I wouldn’t say I was offended, but I joined her in our frustration and disappointment that there is not more AAPI representation in the cabinet.”