Updated Mar 23, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Sens. Duckworth, Hirono to vote no on "non-diversity" nominees until Biden commits to AAPI picks

Photo of Tammy Duckworth speaking from behind a podium

Sen. Tammy Duckworth. Photo: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) says she plans to join Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) in opposing "non-diversity" nominees until President Biden makes a commitment to appointing Asian American Pacific Islanders (AAPI) in key executive branch positions.

Why it matters: Lawmakers have pressed Biden to nominate AAPIs to Cabinet and Cabinet-level positions since November. Hirono and Duckworth's opposition could also hurt nominations that don't have strong bipartisan support.

  • Duckworth, along with Hirono, confronted a senior White House official this week over the lack of AAPI representation in the administration.
  • Their push comes after shootings in Atlanta killed eight people, including six Asian women, and forced the nation to reckon with anti-Asian violence.
  • With Neera Tanden's nomination no longer in play, U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai is the only AAPI at the Cabinet level.
  • It appears the White House is not considering an AAPI candidate to replace Tanden for the head of the Office of Management and Budget, according to Duckworth.

What they're saying: "When I asked about AAPI representation ... the first words out of the staff mouth was: 'We're very proud of Vice President Harris,' which is incredibly insulting," Duckworth said Tuesday, referring to what White House deputy chief of staff Jen O'Malley Dillon said at a meeting first reported by Axios' Alayna Treene and Jonathan Swan.

  • "That’s not the first time I’ve heard that," she added, noting that she has recommended qualified AAPIs to the White House for six months. They "never even got a phone call," she said.
  • Until she hears a commitment from the White House, whether related to currently open positions like OMB head or future roles, she said she is a "no vote on the floor on all non-diversity nominees," including sub-Cabinet and judicial nominees.
  • "I will vote for racial minorities and I will vote for LGBTQ, but anybody else, I'm not voting for."
    • Considered a reliable White House ally, Duckworth said she already told the administration she will vote no on upcoming confirmations for the deputy secretary of defense and assistant secretary of defense for policy.

Hirono told reporters later Tuesday, "I joined [Duckworth] in our frustration and disappointment that there is not more AAPI representation in the Cabinet."

  • "We're very serious about this because Joe Biden made a commitment to have a diverse Cabinet and diverse White House. ... That is what we're calling for."

The big picture: Despite promising to appoint the "most diverse" Cabinet in U.S. history, Biden's is the first in 20 years without an AAPI Cabinet secretary of any of the executive departments.

Editor's note: This story has been updated with Hirono's statement.

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