Apr 8, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Scoop: Democrats eye 2025 comeback for Congress' diversity office

Reps. Judy Chu, wearing a sky blue suit and black shirt, Stephen Horsford, wearing a dark pale blue suit and white shirt, and Nanette Barragán, wearing a light pink suit and white and blue floral shirt, standing in front of a white backdrop with the House Democrats logo.

Reps. Judy Chu, Steven Horsford and Nanette Barragán. Photo: Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images.

A group of top House Democrats is already laying the groundwork for the return of the House's diversity and inclusion office should their party retake the majority in November, Axios has learned.

Why it matters: Eliminating the office as part of a bipartisan spending bill passed last month was a rare win for congressional Republicans in their fight against diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) programs.

  • The push to restore the office is being led by Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus Chair Judy Chu (D-Calif.), Black Caucus Chair Steven Horsford (D-Nev.) and Hispanic Caucus Chair Nanette Barragán (D-Calif.) – known as the Tri-Caucus chairs.

Driving the news: In a letter to House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) and the top Democrats on two relevant committees, first obtained by Axios, the chairs suggested that restoring and "strengthening" the office should be a priority for a Democratic House majority.

  • Chu, Horsford and Barragán said they are "incredibly grateful for your unrelenting leadership in fighting against [Republicans'] assaults on diversity, equity, and inclusion."
  • "We therefore stand ready to work with House Democratic Leadership and future Committee Chairs to restore the existence and robust funding of the House Office of Diversity and Inclusion," they wrote.

What they're saying: House Administration Committee Ranking Member Joe Morelle (D-N.Y.), one of the recipients of the letter, said in a statement he is "absolutely committed" to restoring the office "under a Speaker Hakeem Jeffries."

  • A Jeffries spokesperson told Axios he looks forward to reviewing the letter and is supportive of restoring the ODI after Republicans eliminated it.

The backdrop: The office was formed in March 2020, when Democrats held the House majority, to address a lack of racial diversity among congressional staffers.

  • But in a notice to congressional staff last month, its director, Dr. Sesha Joi Moon, wrote that the non-partisan office would be "dissolved" as part of the spending bill.
  • Some of the ODI's staffers and responsibilities are being absorbed into a new Office of Talent Management, Moon said.
  • Former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) issued a directive to dissolve the ODI upon taking office last year.

Between the lines: "We were relieved to see ... that non-partisan staff and critical functions of ODI were ultimately protected," the Tri-Caucus chairs wrote.

  • However, they argued that the office "operated at its best when it was fully dedicated to advancing equity" for racial minority groups and "other underserved communities" such as women, veterans and the disabled.

Zoom out: The office's elimination was part of a broader crusade by Republicans to crack down on funding for DEI, abortion, transgender health care and critical race theory in federal agencies and programs.

  • In most cases, House Republicans' socially conservative policy riders were stripped out in negotiations in the Senate – but Democrats gave in on a handful, such as a ban on U.S. embassies flying LGBTQ+ flags.

By the numbers: In its four years in existence, the diversity office assisted nearly 2,700 applicants and conducted more than 1,500 consultations with congressional offices, according to Chu, Horsford and Barrágan.

  • It helped roughly 730 jobseekers obtain roles on Capitol Hill.
  • "Republican lawmakers are so eager to score political points by eliminating all diversity and inclusion programs that they undercut a non-partisan office that dozens of their own Members have used to identify highly qualified candidates that they went on to hire," they wrote.
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