Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) says she won’t support “non-diversity” nominees put forward by Joe Biden until the president makes a commitment to tap Asian Americans or Pacific Islanders for high-level positions in his administration.
“I’ve been talking to them for months. And they’re still not aggressive. So I am not going to be voting for any nominees from the White House other than diversity nominees. I’ll be a ‘No’ on everyone until they figure this out,” Duckworth told reporters on Tuesday.
“I will vote for racial minorities and LGTBQ, but anybody else I’m not voting for,” Duckworth added, making clear her stance applied to both judicial and sub-cabinet executive nominations.
Duckworth, one of only two Asian-Americans currently serving in the U.S. Senate, has been pushing the Biden administration to nominate an AAPI person to the president’s Cabinet for months. The Senate this week confirmed Biden’s 15th Cabinet secretary. None of the 15 are Asian-American.
The Senate confirmed Katherine Tai to serve as U.S. trade representative last week. Tai is the first Asian-American and first woman of color to serve in the position. While the office of U.S. trade representative is technically considered a Cabinet-level position, advocates would like to see an AAPI Cabinet secretary.
The lack of AAPI representation in Biden’s top Cabinet picks became more glaring after a series of mass shootings at massage parlors in Georgia last week set off a new wave of fear among Asian Americans across the country and national calls to address AAPI discrimination. A gunman in Atlanta killed eight people, including six women of Asian descent.
Duckworth suggested the Biden administration select AAPI nominees to lead the Office of Management and Budget, which is currently available due to the withdrawal of Neera Tanden, or to serve on the Federal Communications Commission. She also named the position of assistant secretary of defense as another option.
Duckworth’s threat to block future Biden nominees followed a tense phone call on Monday with top White House officials who, according to the senator, pointed to Vice President Kamala Harris’ South Asian roots when confronted about the lack of AAPI representation in Biden’s Cabinet.
“The first words out of the staff mouth was, ‘Well we’re very proud of Vice President Harris,’ which is incredibly insulting,” Duckworth said Tuesday.
Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), the first Asian American woman elected to the Senate and a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said she is also planning to vote no on some Biden picks until the administration puts forward more AAPI nominees.
“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,” Hirono told reporters.