President-elect Joe Biden has vowed to create a diverse Cabinet that represents a multicultural United States, and he’s taken steps with his initial nominations to fulfill the promise.
But that hasn’t put an end to the pressure or blocked criticism from supporters who say he has more to do to meet the mark.
Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.), the top Black lawmaker on Capitol Hill who played a critical role in Biden’s victory in the Democratic presidential primary, last week expressed disappointment over the lack of Black people named to prominent positions to date.
“I want to see where the process leads to, what it produces,” Clyburn told Juan Williams, a columnist for The Hill, in an interview. “But so far it’s not good.”
Clyburn’s remarks came after nearly 20 members of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus penned a letter to Biden and his top advisers urging the president-elect to ensure Asian American and Pacific Islanders were represented in his Cabinet, noting it is the fastest growing racial group in the country.
Those remarks came before Biden’s most recent announcements on staffing.
On Sunday, he announced an all-female communications team that includes several women of color. He also has named women to fill several Cabinet and White House positions, including appointing the first female director of national intelligence.
He has nominated a Black woman to serve as ambassador to the United Nations and the first Latino to head the Department of Homeland Security. On Monday, he named Neera Tanden, whose parents are Indian immigrants, as his nominee to lead his budget office.
Many Democrats have praised Biden’s choices as providing a clear contrast with President Trump’s Cabinet, which was overwhelmingly white and male. Observers also note that most of Biden’s nominees and appointees come with deep government experience, a nod to his efforts to restore public trust in governing institutions.
“This is already a signal that it’s no longer business as usual. It’s no longer filling seats with people who look like the person elected president or vice president,” said Donna Brazile, a former chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee. “It looks like, now, a Cabinet that will reflect the strengths and diversity and the skills of Americans of all backgrounds.”
“It also, I think, signals that women and others will have more than folding chairs, they will have actual seats at the table in the Cabinet room,” Brazile added.
Biden has named several people of color to serve in his administration, with most serving in staff roles. Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-La.) will work as a White House senior adviser and director of the office of public engagement.
Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, the first woman, African American and Asian American to serve in her role, on Sunday announced the all-female communications team. Symone Sanders, who is Black, will serve as Harris’s chief spokesperson.
In addition to Tanden, Biden on Monday said he would nominate Cecilia Rouse, an African American labor economist at Princeton University, as his nominee to head the Council of Economic Advisers, and Wally Adeyemo, a former top adviser in economic and national security roles under former President Obama, to serve as the first African American deputy Treasury secretary.
“President-elect Biden will build a diverse administration that looks like America, starting with the first woman of South Asian descent and first Black woman to serve as Vice President-elect,” a Biden-Harris transition spokesperson said in a statement.
“His campaign and transition both succeeded in this effort,” the spokesperson added. “He has only announced a few White House staff and cabinet nominees to this point, and his success in finding diverse voices to develop and implement his policy vision to tackle our nation’s toughest challenges will be clear when our full slate of appointees and nominees is complete.”
Forty-one percent of the transition’s senior staff are people of color, and 53 percent are women. Of the 13 members of Biden’s coronavirus advisory board, five are women and nine are people of color.
But Linda Thomas-Greenfield, Biden’s pick to represent the U.S. at the United Nations, is so far the only Black person to be nominated for a Senate-confirmed Cabinet position.
“I think Democrats can be pleased in the selections so far because they reflect the broad coalition that got him elected,” said Basil Smikle, a Democratic political strategist and lecturer at Columbia University.
At the same time, Smikle said that Clyburn was “well within his right” to voice concerns given the critical role he played in Biden’s election and said that one would hope Biden’s transition team would be responsive to his overtures.
Biden has managed to satisfy progressives thus far with his choices. Adam Green, whose organization, the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, submitted a list of individuals to serve personnel posts to the Biden-Harris transition team, said progressives have been encouraged particularly by the choice of Ron Klain as chief of staff and Janet Yellen as Treasury secretary.
“The most significant announcement so far has been Ron Klain for chief of staff because he sent a larger signal that when Biden has multiple acceptable options on the table for him and progressives have a preference, he will move in that direction,” Green said.
Biden, who has pledged to unite the country amid deep partisan divisions, has also said he is open to tapping Republicans for leadership positions, something that could eventually draw fire from the liberal wing of the party.
“There are a number of really qualified Republicans,” Biden said in an interview with Lester Holt last week, though he signaled that an announcement on such a choice was further down the road.
Brazile noted that only a portion of Biden’s selections have been rolled out and that she expected to see more diversity, including in terms of age, experience and party identification, in the forthcoming announcements.
“I am looking forward to seeing more — not less — but more. I think this is a great start. I am very confident that over the course of the next couple days or weeks … you will see even more, more diversity,” Brazile said. “The good news is that these are seasoned professionals with proven backgrounds and they will be able to hit the ground running.”