NAACP president asks incoming Biden administration to designate adviser on racial equity

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NAACP President Derrick Johnson on Tuesday made a direct appeal to President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, asking them to create a new national adviser position within their administration that would focus on creating policy that centers racial justice and equity efforts.

“Modeled after the Climate Envoy for National Security, the National Advisor on Racial Justice, Equity and Advancement would be charged with centralizing bold, visionary thinking and strategy on racial justice within the White House and fostering the development of holistic measures throughout government to tackle the pervasive problem of systemic racism as never before,” the NAACP said in a statement.

Johnson added in a press call following the meeting, “We called for personnel dedicated to oversee implementation of racial equity opportunities. What gets done is what gets measured and what gets measured is what to be held to account. We need dedicated people that report directly to the president.” 

He and several other leaders of preeminent civil rights groups met with Biden and Harris to discuss the administration’s plans to support racial justice. The fledgling administration has made clear that racial equity is one of its top priorities.

Such a position would signal an expected but marked difference to how the Trump administration has approached the issue of diversity and inclusion.

During the home stretch of the election cycle, Trump signed a pair of executive orders that banned federal agencies and contractors from conducting diversity training and rolled back fair housing guidance laid down by the Obama administration.

The moves were heavily criticized and resulted in the Trump administration being sued by civil rights groups.

Tuesday’s meeting between Biden, Harris and civil rights groups was wide-ranging and lasted nearly two hours, attendees said. All of the activists in attendance said that the meeting went well.

“We saw today a passionate Joe Biden and a passionate Kamala Harris, and the passion that they expressed personally resonated with me because I believe this is a time of great passion,” National Urban League President Marc Morial said on the post-meeting press call. “We will judge this administration by the actions it takes and by its results.”

Civil rights groups and Black lawmakers have put pressure on Biden to feature significant Black representation in his Cabinet. Biden earlier in the day announced his pick for Defense secretary, retired Gen. Lloyd Austin, who is Black. Austin would be the United States’ first Black Pentagon chief.

On the call, the leaders expressed their approval of Biden’s choice of Austin while lauding the credentials of Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio), who is reportedly Biden’s pick to lead the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

“Congresswoman Fudge is more than exceptionally prepared for several positions. … She was also a mayor of an urban city in Cleveland, Ohio, so she comes with that knowledge,” said Melanie Campbell, president and CEO of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation. “Housing and Urban Development [HUD] is really, really a critical component in our community. I think she will be an exceptional secretary of HUD, as she would have been for agriculture or any other position.”

Fudge, who sits on the House Agriculture Committee, had been linked to the still-open Agriculture secretary seat in Biden’s Cabinet, garnering support from House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) and the Congressional Black Caucus.

However, reports Tuesday evening indicated that Biden would pick former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, who held the Agriculture secretary position throughout the Obama administration, for the role again.

In addition to Fudge and Austin, Linda Thomas-Greenfield and Cecilia Rouse round out the Black nominees for Biden’s Cabinet so far, being picked to be the country’s next ambassador to the U.N. and chairwoman of the Council of Economic Advisers, respectively. 

Updated at 7:53 p.m.

Tags biden administration Cecilia Rouse Derrick Johnson Derrick Johnson Joe Biden Linda Thomas-Greenfield Marcia Fudge NAACP NAACP racial equity racial justice Tom Vilsack

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