Tammy Duckworth and Mazie Hirono
Tammy Duckworth: AP/Shutterstock; Mazie Hirono: Shutterstock

Two Top Asian American Democrats, Angered Over Lack of Diversity in Biden Cabinet, Threaten to Block Votes of Future Nominees

Angered over the lack of Asian American representation among President Joe Biden’s Cabinet, Senators Tammy Duckworth of Illinois and Mazie Hirono of Hawaii are threatening to begin voting against future White House Cabinet nominees who aren’t diverse minorities.

Duckworth, the first Thai American woman elected to Congress and the first female double amputee in the U.S. Senate, is particularly incensed that while there are no men or women currently on the Cabinet who identify as AAPI (Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders), a top White House official is also said to have repeatedly pointed to Vice President Kamala Harris’ South Asian roots as being sufficient and as a way of defending diversity within the administration.

“To be told that you have Kamala Harris, we are very proud of her, you don’t need anybody else, is insulting,” Duckworth said in an interview with CNN. “That’s not something you would say to the Black caucus — that you have Kamala — we’re not going to be putting any African Americans in the Cabinet. Why would you say that to AAPIs? President Biden will be the first President in 20 years without a Cabinet secretary who is AAPI.” According to NPR, Duckworth had been in talks with the White House for months over the lack of Asian representation in the Cabinet and even gave them a list of qualified AAPI candidates, none of whom received so much as a phone call. 

According to CNN’s Manu Raju and Clare Foran, “if the two Democratic senators carry through with the threat, the confrontational stand could put executive branch and judicial picks in jeopardy in a 50-50 Senate if all Republicans vote against one of the President’s nominees.” 

They added that Duckworth and Hirono’s opposition is already imperiling a top Pentagon pick, Colin Kahl. The nominee is already facing harsh criticism from conservatives over tweets he made in the past attacking certain far-right Republican policies. 

“Duckworth told CNN on Tuesday that she planned to vote ‘no’ on all of Biden’s upcoming nominees until the President makes a commitment and appoints Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders to key executive branch positions,” Raju and Foran reported.

Vowing to hold back affirmative votes on all nominees until she is satisfied her message has been heard, Hirono told reporters, “It means that 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 able to join her in voting no on non-diversity nominees. I think that is a reasonable position.”

“A lack of AAPI diversity in top roles in the new administration has come under increased scrutiny amid a rise in anti-Asian violence across the United States against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic. Last week, eight people — six of whom were Asian women — were killed in Atlanta-area shootings at three spas,” Raju and Foran said.

Although his nomination of Neera Tanden to lead the Office of Management and Budget collapsed, Biden has defended his selections saying that Katherine Tai was recently confirmed as a White House trade representative and that his pick for White House budget director would be Asian American. While both positions are considered “Cabinet-rank,” they are not part of the 15 executive departments.

“We have the most diverse Cabinet in history,” Biden told reporters on March 23. “We have a lot of Asian Americans who are in the Cabinet and sub-Cabinet level. Our Cabinet is formed.”

Duckworth retorted that there could still be AAPI nominees to fill vacant positions such as the Office of Management and Budget and the Federal Communications Commission — or a commitment to future Cabinet secretaries — and until those occur, she won’t change her mind.

“Until then, I am a no vote on the floor on all non-diversity nominees,” Duckworth said.

Raju and Foran added that while she is advocating for AAPI representation in sub-Cabinet choices and judicial appointments, she would also support racial minorities and LGBTQ nominees.


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