Mar 23, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Scoop: Democrats confront White House over lack of AAPI Cabinet representation

A close-up of Sen. Tammy Duckworth addressing reporters from a podium, waving her left index finger
Sen. Tammy Duckworth addresses reporters last November at the Capitol. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Two Democratic senators of Asian American and Pacific Islander heritage confronted a senior White House official Monday night over the absence of AAPI representation in President Biden's Cabinet, four Senate aides familiar with the call tell Axios.

Behind the scenes: Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), backed up by Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), leveled the complaint to deputy chief of staff Jen O’Malley Dillon during a Zoom call between the White House and the Senate Democratic Caucus.

  • Hours earlier, Biden finalized the permanent secretaries of the 15 executive departments when the Senate confirmed former Boston Mayor Marty Walsh as Labor secretary.
  • Duckworth noted that the Cabinet lacks a single AAPI member, according to four Senate Democratic aides briefed on the call. Hirono backed her up.

Between the lines: The discussion follows last week's mass shooting in Georgia and national calls to address AAPI discrimination, racism and targeting.

  • But from the start of his administration, Biden has faced calls to include more Asian Americans at top levels of his administration, including as Cabinet secretaries.
  • Vice President Kamala Harris is the first woman, African American and Asian American to hold that position. Biden's U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai is also Asian American. The positions are Cabinet-level, but they are not considered Cabinet secretaries.

O’Malley Dillon brought these points up during the call in response to Duckworth’s concerns, and she spoke about the administration’s commitment to fighting hate against the Asian American community, two sources briefed on the call said.

  • She also "reaffirmed that she and the White House are committed to building, engaging a diverse coalition and ensuring it’s represented in government," one of the sources said.

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