Dec 3, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Hispanics blast Team Biden for Cabinet disrespect

Representative Vicente Gonzalez listens during a House hearing in Washington.
Representative Vicente Gonzalez (D-Texas). Photo: Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call

Hispanic lawmakers lambasted Ron Klain and other top Biden officials today for “embarrassing” and “demeaning” New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham around the possibility of her serving in the Cabinet.

Why it matters: The Biden transition has been walking a tightrope with various racial and ethnic groups as it builds its Cabinet, and today members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus complained their demographic isn’t being properly represented and is being disrespected in the process.

The backstory: Multiple media outlets, including Axios, reported Wednesday Lujan Grisham was not, in fact, the front runner to serve as secretary of Health and Human Services, as other media had been reporting. There also were reports she had turned down the Department of Interior.

Lujan Grisham chaired the CHC while serving in the House, and today her former colleagues lit into Klain, Ted Kaufman - who is leading the transition - and co-chair Jeff Zients.

  • “There was clearly pushback about the leak,” Rep. Vicente Gonzalez told Axios. “Our message was: 'If you don’t want to pick them, don’t pick 'em, fine. But don’t hurt 'em.'”
  • Klain, the incoming White House chief of staff, was apologetic about the way the situation was handled, explaining he is trying to tamp down on leaks.
  • A transition spokesperson did not immediately provide a comment.

Why it matters: Lawmakers from the CHC, as well as the Congressional Black Caucus, have complained about Black, Hispanic and members of other racial or ethnic groups being directed toward lesser Cabinet posts, or bypassed altogether for key slots in a Cabinet that Biden has vowed will "look like America."

  • In some cases, like at the Department of Justice, both caucuses are advocating for their own candidates, so conflict is inevitable.
  • Rep. Jim Clyburn told Axios' Kadia Goba he can envision Black candidates for "every single" Cabinet post..
  • “I can think of at least 10 Black folks that qualify for every single one,” he said.

Go deeper: In today's call, some lawmakers continued to make the case for Lujan Grisham.

  • News broke during the conversation that Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo was not interested in HHS, leaving some hopeful Lujan Grisham will get a second look.
  • Rep. Veronica Escobar said that when she asked Klain if Lujan Grisham was still in contention, “I did not get the most direct answer, but I am going to remain hopeful.”
  • She said: "My message was No. 1, there's not been a single Latina appointed yet to a Cabinet position and Latinas played a very important role in this election."

The bottom line: The next secretary has an important task, helping manage the nation's vaccine and coronavirus response with Zients, who is slated to oversee the entire effort.

This story has been updated to reflect that Rep. Clyburn can "envision" Black candidates for every Cabinet post, not that he "wants" them, and comments from Rep. Escobar.

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