Republican lawmakers lashed out this week after Sens. Tammy Duckworth and Mazie Hirono refused to confirm anymore non-diverse nominees until President Joe Biden pledged to add more AAPI appointees to his roster.
Republican lawmakers went on the offensive on Tuesday, claiming that two senators' calls for President Joe Biden to nominate a person of Asian American or Pacific Islander descent to his Cabinet was somehow "racist."
Sens. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) and Mazie Hirono (D-HI) pledged earlier on Tuesday to vote against any further non-diverse nominees until Biden moved to ensure more AAPI representation in his Cabinet ranks.
Duckworth and Hirono are the only AAPI women — and only two AAPI senators for that matter — in the upper chamber.
Neither senator had blocked any of Biden's nominations up until that point.
Duckworth and the White House eventually overcame the impasse, striking a deal late Tuesday night, with the Biden administration agreeing to appoint a senior liaison to the AAPI community, to ensure the community's voice was heard. Duckworth and Hirono have since dropped their pledge to vote no on Biden's nominees, voicing appreciation and stressing the importance of the White House's efforts to increase diversity.
Biden's Cabinet is set to become the first in 20 years without an AAPI official leading one of its 15 executive departments. Currently, Vice President Kamala Harris is the only Asian American Cabinet member, while Katherine Tai was confirmed as the U.S. trade representative, a Cabinet-level role, but not a leading secretary position.
GOP lawmakers quickly sunk their teeth into the controversy, lashing out with accusations of racism.
"How is this not racist and bigoted?" wrote Rep. Tim Burchett (R-TN) on Wednesday, retweeting a post about Duckworth's previous statement that she would only vote for diverse nominees.
"Mazie Hirono and Tammy Duckworth have now stated they will refuse to vote for any nominee who is not of color. They will only vote for white people if they are LGBTQ. So much for 'content of their character,'" Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-CO) tweeted Wednesday — after Duckworth and Hirono had already announced they were no longer blocking Biden's nominees.
Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AK) tweeted Tuesday, "We've gone pretty far down the road from judging people by the content of their character and not the color of their skin."
Rep. Ken Buck (R-CO) also tweeted Wednesday, "Senate Democrats are voting for nominees based on race, not qualifications. This is absolutely wrong."
"It's disappointing but not surprising that the Democrats' obsession with identity politics has come to this: U.S. Senators openly acknowledge voting for or against nominees based solely on their race," he added in a separate tweet.
"Remember when 'I won’t support someone because of their skin color' used to be racist?" Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-TX) tweeted Tuesday.
The GOP claims of racism, however, fall flat.
Duckworth and Hirono had already said they would not stand in the way of nominees of color or those from other marginalized groups. Additionally, Biden's Cabinet already includes several white appointees, several of whom Hirono and Duckworth supported and voted for.
Moreover, their frustration with the lack of AAPI representation in federal government is rooted in reality. AAPI people are severely underrepresented in government. Congress is overwhelmingly white, as is the federal government.
Meanwhile, groups advocating for the AAPI community have rallied behind Duckworth and Hirono, pushing back against some of the GOP's criticisms.
"If you have a problem with @SenDuckworth and @maziehirono, 2 female #AAPI Senators, wielding power to try and make the gov. look more like the country it represents, it says a lot more about you than them," the National Council of Asian Pacific American tweeted Tuesday. "You're damn straight we're tired and mad."
Varun Nikore, who leads the AAPI Victory Fund and AAPI Progressive Action, tweeted Monday, "Our community needs more #AAPIs in leadership positions, so that we can have our voices heard."
"Our representation is not to take away someone else’s representation," Katie Nguyen Kalvoda, a board member with the AAPI Victory Fund, added in an email on Wednesday. "It is to enhance the totality of the representation of America. Our community's lived experience is different from other groups' and we should aspire to understand how policies impact the whole country. Without representation, this could not be achieved."
The calls for more AAPI representation in government follow several deadly shootings in the Atlanta-area last Tuesday that left eight people dead, including six Asian women. The tragedy comes amid an alarming uptick of violent, racist attacks against AAPI people, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and the GOP's decision to push racist rhetoric on the subject.
Shekar Narasimhan, chair of the AAPI Victory Fund, told the Washington Post on Thursday, "Let's just say we are no longer going to sort of not say where we stand."
"It’s become even more significant . . . and important at this moment in time for us to show that East Asians can be at the highest levels of government," Narasimhan said.
Duckworth, for her part, was particularly offended by White House deputy chief Jen O'Malley Dillon's comments in response to her decision on Monday, during a call with other lawmakers.
"When I asked about AAPI representation in the second part, the first words out of the staff's mouth is: 'We're very proud of Vice President Harris,' which is incredibly insulting," Duckworth said on Tuesday. "To be told that you have Kamala Harris, we are proud of her, you don't need anybody else, is insulting. That's not something you would say to the Black caucus: That you have Kamala, we're not going to be put any African Americans in the Cabinet. Why would you say that to AAPIs?"
White House press secretary Jen Psaki has since reassured the public of Biden's priorities, saying, "The President has made it clear that his Administration will reflect the diversity of the country," and to "ensure the community's voice is further represented and heard."
Updated with additional comment from the AAPI Victory Fund.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.