Clyburn: Biden falling short on naming Black figures to top posts

The most senior Black lawmaker on Capitol Hill is taking Joe Biden to task over administration appointments, saying the president-elect is falling short when it comes to naming Black figures to top positions.

Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.), the House majority whip and a close Biden ally, expressed disappointment on Wednesday that African Americans — a voting bloc crucial to Biden’s presidential victory — have not featured more prominently among the early picks to fill out senior administration posts next year.

In an interview with Juan Williams, Clyburn welcomed Biden’s selection of Linda Thomas-Greenfield, a Black veteran of the diplomatic corps, to serve as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. But he lamented that she is so far alone among Black women tapped for cabinet seats and other top slots.

“From all I hear, Black people have been given fair consideration,” Clyburn told Williams, a columnist for The Hill. “But there is only one Black woman so far.”

“I want to see where the process leads to, what it produces,” he added. “But so far it’s not good.” 

Coming from Clyburn, the criticism carries a particular weight. The 14-term South Carolinian is not only the third-ranking House Democrat, a veteran of the civil rights movement and the most powerful African American in Congress, but he also helped deliver the Palmetto State to Biden at a crucial moment in the Democratic primary, when Biden was limping behind the surging campaign of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). 

Clyburn’s voice holds outsized sway among Democratic voters in the state, many of them African American, and his decision to endorse Biden ahead of the primary vote lent a pivotal boost to the former vice president, who carried the momentum from South Carolina into Super Tuesday, when he shocked the field with decisive wins en route to the Democratic nomination. Black voters, in those contests, were a major source of Biden’s success. 

While President Trump has not yet conceded, Biden is pushing ahead toward his scheduled inauguration on Jan. 20. And in recent days he began naming his choices for Cabinet positions and other senior positions in his White House next year. 

The early selections are not devoid of diversity.

To head the Department of Homeland Security, Biden chose Alejandro Mayorkas, a Cuban American and the first Hispanic to fill that role. 

Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-La.), former head of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) and a close friend of Clyburn, was tapped as director of the White House Office of Public Engagement, where he’ll serve as a senior adviser to Biden and a liaison between the West Wing and Congress, where he has extensive ties to lawmakers in both parties.

And Biden’s soon-to-be vice president is Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), the most powerful Black woman elected in U.S. history. 

Clyburn, though, says he’s eager for more minorities to ascend, and he has several figures in mind as Biden fills out his Cabinet in the coming days and weeks.

For Agriculture secretary, Clyburn is promoting Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio), a former CBC chair and a fierce advocate for food stamps and other low-income nutrition programs that fall under the department’s jurisdiction. Although Fudge represents a relatively urban district in and around Cleveland, Clyburn suggested that’s an asset for the job. 

“Eighty percent of Agriculture Department’s work has nothing to do with farming,” he told Williams. “It is food stamps, nutrition, building schools in rural areas, making sure people have broadband … [and] tele-health programs.

“People ask why Democrats do not do well in rural communities, and this is one of the reasons.”

Clyburn is also advocating for Jaime Harrison, a Black lobbyist-turned-Senate candidate in South Carolina, to lead the Democratic National Committee (DNC). Although Harrison was defeated handily by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R) this month, he rose to national prominence for hauling in more than $100 million in the race, shattering fundraising records for a single Senate cycle along the way.

Clyburn said Harrison’s “proven talent” for fundraising makes him an ideal pick atop the DNC.

“We can’t leave our young talent behind on the battlefield,” Clyburn said.

Rounding out some of his preferred choices for the incoming administration, Clyburn is advocating for Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown to lead the Department of Housing and Urban Development, while promoting California Attorney General Xavier Becerra to assume the same spot at the federal level. 

Clyburn floated several other names as potential picks for attorney general, including Sen. Doug Jones (D-Ala.), who lost his reelection bid this month, and former deputy attorney general Sally Yates, who served as acting attorney general for 10 days in 2017 before Trump fired her.

But Becerra is a former House veteran who had chaired both the Hispanic Caucus and the full Democratic Caucus before leaving Congress after the 2016 cycle. Clyburn said he’s a “big fan” of elevating his former colleague to replace outgoing Attorney General William Barr. 

An official with the Biden-Harris transition defended the team’s push for diversity, noting that 46 percent of all staff are people of color and 52 percent are women. 

In addition, the official said, Biden has already chosen the nation’s first Black woman to join him at the top of the ticket, and the list of appointees has only begun to be finalized.

“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,” the official said in an email. 

Tags Bernie Sanders Cedric Richmond Donald Trump doug jones Joe Biden Lindsey Graham Marcia Fudge Sally Yates William Barr Xavier Becerra
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