Black Lawmakers Irked by Obama’s Diverse Cabinet

Jared Allen, The Hill, December 22, 2008

Some members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) are disappointed President-elect Obama did not appoint more African-Americans to his Cabinet.

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But Obama passed over black candidates in selecting Cabinet nominees for positions central to setting policy for urban America, such as the departments of Education, Labor, and Housing and Urban Development.

Hispanic Americans, by contrast, have been nominated for three Cabinet positions, and politicians from that constituency have hailed Obama’s nominations.

“Did the African-American community probably expect more appointees at that level? Probably so,” said Rep. Danny Davis (D-Ill.), an early Obama supporter who has expressed an interest in filling Obama’s vacant Senate seat.

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“On balance, I’d say a great deal of thought went into the shaping of this Cabinet,” Davis told The Hill. “And he ended up with a real rainbow. But some people, sure, thought there should be a bit more color in it.”

Another senior member of the CBC who requested anonymity said more pointedly that Obama “isn’t doing enough for the black folks.”

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Obama’s Cabinet, if confirmed, will include 11 whites, four blacks, three Hispanics and two Asian Americans.

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Obama’s final Cabinet announcements last week raised frustrations within the CBC that Obama is taking his strongest supporters for granted, an aide to a prominent black lawmaker said.

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Obama also announced African-American Ron Kirk, the former mayor of Dallas, would be his trade representative. But Kirk only won the post after a Hispanic, Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.), turned it down.

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“People I’ve talked to have expressed that they were hoping to have seen a few more African-Americans in place, and in places where you can pinpoint needs,” Davis said, citing specifically the departments of Education, Health and Human Services, and Housing and Urban Development.

Those three departments are going to be run by white men.

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And, notably, unlike the CBC, Hispanic lawmakers were happy not only to have familiar faces in the Cabinet, but to see them placed in key positions to advance some of their highest priorities, such as comprehensive immigration reform.

In fact, many Hispanics in Congress are buoyed by the possibility of getting immigration reform moved back onto the front burner, especially with Solis at the Labor Department and Bill Richardson running the Commerce Department.

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Ninety-five percent of African-American voters supported Obama, 8 percent more than voted for Democratic Sen. John Kerry (Mass.) in 2004. Turnout of African-Americans was key to helping Obama win Virginia and North Carolina, which had gone for the GOP presidential candidate for decades.

But Hispanics might have been even more important to Obama. He took 67 percent of the Hispanic vote, according to exit polls, compared to the 53 percent won by Kerry. Obama won Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico, which all went Republican in 2004.

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