Lawmakers and advocates praise Biden for having 'the most diverse administration ever' but worry about the lack of AAPI representation in his Cabinet's top roles.
President-elect Joe Biden announced on Thursday that he had selected Boston Mayor Marty Walsh as his pick for labor secretary, marking the first time in 20 years that a presidential administration has not appointed a Cabinet secretary of Asian American or Pacific Islander descent.
Previously, Asian American and Pacific Islander lawmakers pushed for Biden to choose Julie Su, California's labor secretary, to lead the Labor Department.
The Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus expressed frustration with the oversight, releasing a statement Thursday evening.
"The glaring omission of an AAPI Cabinet Secretary in the self-declared ‘most diverse Cabinet in history’ is not lost on us and sends a demoralizing message to our nation’s fastest growing racial group and voting bloc that AAPIs do not need to be counted the same way as other key constituency groups," they wrote. "... For too long, AAPIs have been left out of significant policy conversations and decisions. And now, even as our communities suffer disproportionately from the Coronavirus pandemic, it is incredibly disheartening to not have an equal seat at the most important policy making table in the country."
Others voiced their disappointment online.
"Without #AsianAmericans, Democrats and @JoeBiden don’t win Georgia ... not having at least one Asian American in the Biden Cabinet is disappointing to say the least," tweeted Kurt Bardella, an MSNBC contributor and senior adviser to the anti-Trump Republican-founded Lincoln Project.
Walsh's nomination came the same day that Elaine Chao resigned from her post as Donald Trump's transportation secretary, further reducing an already underrepresented group in government. Her resignation leaves the Trump administration with zero Asian Americans serving in the Cabinet.
Biden has selected Chinese American Katherine Tai as the U.S. Trade representative, a Cabinet-level position though not a Cabinet secretary role. And Indian American Neera Tanden was tapped as director of the Office of Management and Budget, another Cabinet-level position.
Leaders from the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, concerned about the lack of AAPI Cabinet picks, met virtually with Biden's transition team in December to push for more diversity in the incoming administration's senior ranks.
"Our call remains that we have AAPIs at the highest levels in the Cabinet, just like every administration in recent history," Rep. Grace Meng (D-NY), first vice-chair of the Asian Pacific American congressional caucus, told the Washington Post last month.
As the caucus noted, Asian and Pacific Islander Americans are the United States' fastest-growing electorate.
Asian American voters in every swing state substantially increased their turnout in 2020 compared to other groups, according to a separate Post report.
That report also showed that, in battleground states like Georgia and Arizona, traditionally deep red strongholds, analysis by data firm TargetSmart found that the president-elect won by a margin "less than the increase in AAPI voters."
In Georgia alone, a record 91% increase from 2016 in Asian American Pacific Islander voter turnout contributed to Biden's win, TargetSmart found. Citing exit polls, the Post also noted that about twice as many Asian American voters in the state preferred Biden over Trump.
With that trend in mind, Democratic Asian American and Pacific Islander American state lawmakers in Georgia worked hard ahead of this week's runoffs to further increase turnout among the AAPI voting bloc. The fruits of their labor came when incoming Sens. Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock emerged victorious against incumbent GOP Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler on Wednesday.
Stephanie Cho, executive director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice’s Atlanta chapter, told the Post that Asian Americans are the "new electorate."
"Us, along with Black women voters, along with Latino voters, along with young people, really have changed the trajectory of what Georgia looks like," she said.
Asian American and Pacific Islanders have historically been overlooked in national politics.
For instance, during the discussion on racism in the final 2020 presidential debate, there were zero mentions of the alarming rise of hate crimes against Asian Americans related to the coronavirus pandemic. Much of that rise has been attributed to racist anti-Asian rhetoric pushed by Republican lawmakers and Trump himself.
Biden, for his part, has pledged to build a diverse team for months. A spokesperson for the president-elect noted to the Post in December that Vice President-elect Kamala Harris would be the first Black and South Asian person to take over the role, a point of pride for many in those communities.
"President-elect Biden is working to build an administration that looks like America, starting with the first woman of South Asian descent and first Black woman to be Vice President-elect, as well as a historic slate of diverse nominees and appointees, to date. He will continue to deliver upon this vision over the coming weeks as he shapes the most diverse Cabinet in history," spokesman Jamal Brown said.
Still, lawmakers and activists alike are hoping for more.
"During the campaign, Biden said he would have the most diverse cabinet ever," Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA) told the Post last month. "The truth is, at this point, that it's the most diverse administration ever, except for AAPIs [...]."
Stated the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus on Thursday, "[...G]iven the horrific domestic terrorist attack we witnessed yesterday due to Donald Trump’s efforts to undermine our democracy, it is more important now than ever that we work together to heal the division in our nation and build our country back better than before. In the weeks and months ahead, we will need to stand unified in our efforts to contain the coronavirus crisis, restore the Voting Rights Act, and tackle critical priorities like comprehensive immigration reform. Therefore, it will be important that AAPIs have a seat at the table where critical decisions are being made."
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.