Mar 24, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Senators drop threat to oppose Biden picks after WH agrees to add AAPI adviser

Senator Tammy Duckworth, a Democrat from Illinois, speaks during a news conference at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., U.S, on Thursday, Feb. 13, 2020.
Sen. Tammy Duckworth. Photo: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Sens. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) and Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) said Tuesday they'll no longer oppose President Biden's "non-diversity" nominees after the White House pledged to do more to represent Asian American Pacific Islanders (AAPI) in government.

Why it matters: The senators went public with their anger at a lack of AAPI representation after Duckworth said she felt insulted following an earlier meeting with White House officials on the issue.

  • Their opposition could've hurt nominations that didn't have strong bipartisan support.

Driving the news: Hirono on Tuesday night confirmed in a Twitter post a CNN report that the White House will add a senior-level AAPI liaison "who will ensure the community's voice is further represented and heard."

  • "I welcome the appointment of a senior level White House liaison to the AAPI community to further strengthen our voice," she said.
  • "I had a productive conversation with the White House today to make clear my perspective about the importance of diversity in the President's cabinet."
  • Duckworth's spokesperson Ben Garmisa said in a statement to news outlets that she "appreciates the Biden administration's assurances that it will do much more to elevate AAPI voices" and "will not stand in the way of President Biden's qualified nominees — which will include more AAPI leaders."

The big picture: Lawmakers have been calling on Biden to nominate AAPIs to Cabinet and Cabinet-level positions since last November.

  • The senators' calls came after a year of escalating anti-Asian violence that came to international attention following the shootings this month in Atlanta, Georgia, which killed eight people, including six Asian women.
  • Duckworth said earlier Tuesday that when she raised the issue of AAPI representation, White House deputy chief of staff Jen O'Malley Dillon "the first words out of the staff mouth was: 'We're very proud of Vice President Harris,' which is incredibly insulting," Axios' Alayna Treene and Jonathan Swan first reported.

What they're saying: The White House did not immediately respond to Axios' request for comment. But Press Secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement to CBS, "The President has made it clear that his Administration will reflect the diversity of the country."

  • "That has always been, and remains our goal. The White House will add a senior level Asian American Pacific Islander liaison, who will ensure the community's voice is further represented and heard."  
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