Favorites emerge as Latino leaders press Biden to appoint 5 Hispanics to Cabinet
Top Latino advocacy organizations are pushing for President-elect Joe Biden to appoint five Hispanics to Cabinet-level posts.
The organizations include civil rights organizations like UnidosUS and elected official groups like the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) and the National Hispanic Caucus of State Legislators, grouped together as the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda.
The president-elect has already signaled he is prioritizing a diverse administration, as three of his nine first hires at the White House are Hispanic.
Here are some of the top names in consideration for Cabinet posts.
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra
Becerra tops the list of Hispanics with Biden Cabinet aspirations, with more than two decades of legislative experience and a record of fighting the Trump administration as California’s top law enforcement official.
The Los Angeles native is reportedly in consideration to lead the Department of Justice (DOJ), which would make him the second Hispanic in history to lead the department, after former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales in the George W. Bush administration.
A DOJ appointment for Becerra would go a long way toward appeasing Hispanic organizations, both because of Becerra’s own record and because the Department of Justice is seen, along with Treasury, Defense and State, as one of the most influential appointments in any Cabinet.
“There has to be a Hispanic in one of the big four positions in the Cabinet,” said Janet Murguía, president of UnidosUS. “We need to show that our communities made progress in the last 30 years.”
Becerra has reportedly also expressed interest in running the Department of Homeland Security, a Cabinet department that’s responsible for immigration enforcement and has a severely tarnished reputation among most Hispanic communities.
A Becerra Homeland Security appointment would signal that the Biden administration is looking to drastically change the culture of the department, the parent agency of Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Protection.
But Latino advocates are watchful that Hispanic appointments are not limited to issues that disproportionately affect Hispanics.
“We shouldn’t pigeonhole,” said Arturo Vargas, head of NALEO. “I would love to have a Latino at Commerce to restore credibility and integrity to the Census Bureau.”
New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D)
Lujan Grisham is the front-runner to lead the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), a job she previously held at the state level in New Mexico under former Gov. Bill Richardson (D).
Lujan Grisham has also been influential in the Biden campaign, and her leadership of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) during her last term in Congress earned her praise for standing up to the Trump administration on a wide array of issues.
“In my view Michelle Luján Grisham is the top Hispanic [official] in the country,” said Richardson. “She deserves to be HHS secretary if she so wishes.”
“Her strengths are that health care is her wheelhouse, she has valuable congressional experience, and has been a very good governor,” he added.
Richardson, a former Energy secretary, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and presidential candidate, said he has “zero interest” in joining an administration.
“I’ve had a 40-year stint in government. I’m happy where I am — I’m very supportive of President-elect Biden but I’m done,” said Richardson.
Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez
Perez has Cabinet experience — he was former President Obama’s secretary of Labor — and experience as assistant attorney general for civil rights.
He’s an alternative to Becerra for the DOJ post, for which outgoing Alabama Sen. Doug Jones (D) is reportedly under consideration.
Perez is also coming out of a tough election for Democrats relatively unscathed, as his DNC chairmanship more closely associates him with the winning presidential strategy than the losses dealt to the Democratic House majority.
Perez’s path could be cleared if Becerra takes the DHS spot or if Becerra is appointed to the Senate to fill in the rest of Vice President-elect Kamala Harris’s term in office, although the most likely contender to occupy that post remains California Secretary of State Alex Padilla.
Still, if Padilla doesn’t take the Senate seat for any reason, Becerra is a very likely pick in a seat where California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) is likely to anger one group or another.
“We’re advocating here in California for a Latino or Latina to finish Vice President-elect Kamala Harris’s term,” said Vargas.
Vargas said a non-Latino pick could split the state’s Democratic Party, as no Hispanic has ever represented California in the upper chamber, despite the state holding the country’s largest Hispanic population.
“I think it would be devastating to us. I think it would create a very difficult relationship between the Latino community and the governor,” said Vargas.
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti
Garcetti, a top Biden ally, would be a shoo-in for Transportation secretary.
As mayor of the country’s second-largest city, Garcetti has plenty of executive experience and TV-friendly charisma to bring to a Cabinet.
But Garcetti said in October “it’s more likely than not” that he’ll finish his term as mayor, which ends in 2022.
The Cuban-born Mayorkas is among the most knowledgeable former Homeland Security officials in the country.
He’s a front-runner for DHS who has reportedly also expressed interest in that post, and someone who could thread the needle between undoing Trump’s immigration changes and keeping an eye out for morale among the agency’s more than 200,000 workers.
Under Obama, Mayorkas led United States Citizenship and Immigration Services and later became deputy secretary of Homeland Security, the highest technical position in the department.
And Mayorkas has broad support in the Hispanic community as the architect of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, something that could help shield him from the political broadsides that are bound to hit the official in charge of deportations.
“President-elect Biden can convey a strong message in following up on his promises by filling this role in particular with someone from our community,” said Murguía.
Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.)
Cortez Masto is a former state attorney general with a spotless record, a reputation for professionalism and broad support among Hispanics.
Cortez Masto has reportedly expressed interest in a Cabinet post, particularly DOJ, but Biden is unlikely to pluck any more senators than absolutely necessary, although a Nevada Senate vacancy would be filled by Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak.
Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.)
The outspoken Arizona congressman was an early supporter of Harris’s and turned out to be a strong asset for Biden’s successful grassroots strategy in Arizona.
He’s reportedly expressed interest in becoming either ambassador to the United Nations or secretary of the Navy — a step below secretary of Defense.
Gallego, a Marine Corps Iraq veteran, would otherwise serve his fourth term in the House, where he’s slated to run the CHC’s campaign arm, Bold PAC.
He is among a handful of representatives up for consideration, but Biden could be shy in picking out members of Congress with a razor-thin Democratic majority.
The CEO of La Opinión, one of the most influential Spanish-language newspapers in the country, Lozano is reportedly under consideration for the Small Business Administration or an ambassadorship, potentially to Mexico.