Senate

Duckworth to oppose Biden nominees over lack of AAPI representation

Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) said on Tuesday that she would oppose President Biden’s future nominees on the Senate floor over a lack of Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) representation in his Cabinet.

“I am a ‘no’ vote, on the floor, on all non-diversity nominees. … I will vote for racial minorities and LGBTQ but anybody else, I’m not voting for,” Duckworth, one of two Asian American senators, told reporters.

In a 50-50 Senate, Duckworth’s opposition could stall nominations if all 50 Republican senators vote against one of Biden’s picks. Duckworth said she would stick with her pledge to oppose Biden’s picks until he makes commitments or names AAPI candidates to top executive branch positions, or promises that a future Cabinet pick would be of Asian or Pacific Island descent.

Duckworth pointed specifically to Colin Kahl’s nomination for the Pentagon’s top policy job as one she would vote against. Kahl’s nomination was already in limbo because Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin (W.Va.) hasn’t said how he will vote.

Duckworth’s disclosure comes after she and Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) pressed White House staff during a virtual retreat on Monday night about the lack of AAPI representation in the Cabinet.

“When I asked about AAPI representation … the first words out of the staff’s mouth was ‘well, we’re very proud of Vice President Harris’ which is incredibly insulting. That’s not the first time I’ve heard that,” Duckworth said about the call.

Duckworth confirmed that deputy chief of staff Jen O’Malley Dillon was the staffer on the call, but noted that this was a rolling topic that she had been discussing with the White House for months.

President Biden spoke with senators as part of the call, with Duckworth describing him as “caring,” “thoughtful” and “humane” about the increase in hate crimes targeting the AAPI community during the coronavirus pandemic.

Just last week, eight people, six of them Asian women, were killed during a shooting spree in Atlanta.

Duckworth added that she had been making suggestions to the White House for well-qualified AAPI nominees “who never even got a phone call.”

“At this point they can call me and tell me what their proposal is,” she said of the administration.

Biden had nominated Neera Tanden to be the director of the Office of Management and Budget. If confirmed she would have been the first South Asian American woman to be confirmed to the position, but her nomination was pulled when it became clear she did not have the votes.

The Senate has also confirmed Katherine Tai to be the U.S. trade representative.

Hirono on Tuesday told CNN, “I don’t think the trade representative is what the community understands as a Cabinet-level” post. 

AAPI groups have been calling for months for more representation at the Cabinet level, with the Asian Pacific American Institute for Congressional Studies noting in January that Biden would be the first president in 20 years not to have a Cabinet secretary who is a member of the AAPI community.

Tags AAPI Anti-Asian bias anti-Asian discrimination anti-Asian prejudice Atlanta Atlanta shootings biden appointee Biden cabinet Biden nominees Joe Biden Joe Manchin Katherine Tai Mazie Hirono Neera Tanden Tammy Duckworth
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