When President Joe Biden promised he would create a Cabinet “that looked like America,” we can only imagine it has become something of a balancing act to determine exactly what that group would look like. And while Biden has received high marks for appointing the highest number of Latinos (three: Xavier Becerra for Health and Human Services; Alejandro Mayorkas for Homeland Security; and Miguel Cardona for Education) as well as the first Indigenous American — Deb Haaland for Interior (via Brookings), he’s also getting some flack for failing to invite more Asian Americans to take their seats at the table.
“There’s no question that President Biden has put together an incredibly diverse Cabinet, and he deserves credit for that,” Gregg Orton, National Director for the National Council of Asian Pacific Americans tells USA Today. Because of this, “It’s important to make sure that those deciding the trajectory of the future have a real understanding of our communities — not that that’s impossible if they’re not in our community, but we have seen time and time again that we are left out.”
Four high profile members of the Biden administration are Asian Americans
This is not the first time high-profile members of the Asian American community have tried to press the Biden administration for more high-profile representation. In early December and after the newly minted president-elect began announcing his Cabinet appointments, members of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus reached out to meet with the transition team. They were worried that there wouldn’t be enough Asian-American voices within the corridors of power. Back then, one of those present at the meeting told The Washington Post that the group had wrapped up the meeting feeling disappointed. “There’s kind of like this pattern of neglect. This is despite efforts to ask for these things,” the anonymous source said.
The Post pointed out that since the Clinton administration, there has always been one Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) in the Cabinet. AAPI representation within the Biden government at the moment includes Katherine Tai for U.S. Trade Representative, Vivek Murthy for Surgeon General, Rhohit Chopra for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and Neera Tanden for the Office of Management and Budget. The U.S. Trade representative post is a Cabinet-rank position (via Ballotpedia); all four posts can only be filled by Senate confirmation (via NPR).
Hopes are pinned on VP Harris
Some community leaders are hoping that Vice President Kamala Harris will keep the community’s profile high when decisions need to be made. “Immigrant communities are used to working twice as hard for half the credit. And we need to stop accepting that, but I’m hopeful that having Vice President Kamala Harris in office means we will be seen and heard in a way we simply haven’t been before,” Neil Makhija, who is executive director of the Indian American Impact Fund, tells USA Today.
Other advocates like former House representative Mike Honda, who now heads an AAPI advocacy group, admits he is disappointed but won’t give up. “Historically, we’ve always tried to get our communities out to vote for Democratic candidates — and so the expectation that he had drawn for us falls short, in my mind… I have full faith that the president understands what we’re saying. But unless we keep the fire underneath the pot at the verge of boiling, people will forget.”
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