Posted on December 8, 2020

Biden Diversity Push Turns Tense over Unfilled Top-Tier Jobs

Jennifer Epstein, Bloomberg, December 5, 2020

President-elect Joe Biden’s early picks for top administration jobs made history for elevating women, people of color and immigrants. But advocates want to see more racial diversity closer to the center of power, putting pressure on Biden as he moves to a new round of selections next week.

He is now drawing criticism over the makeup of his inner circle from Black and Latino lawmakers, and groups like the NAACP and UnidosUS are demanding more say on selections. Amid those objections, his transition team slowed its decision on a Defense secretary, and its choice of a health secretary is emerging as a new flashpoint before an announcement as soon as next week.

The incoming administration broke major barriers with the selection of Kamala Harris as the first Black and Indian-American woman for vice president, along with two Black women, a Latino immigrant and an Indian-American woman for key economic and national security posts. Yet advocates say those officials won’t be as close to the seat of power as the White people the president-elect chose for key posts — including Janet Yellen for Treasury Secretary, Antony Blinken for Secretary of State and Ron Klain as chief of staff.


Biden acknowledged, and even welcomed, the pressure and promised to follow through.

“I promise you, it will be the single most diverse cabinet based on race, color, based on gender that’s ever existed in the United States of America,” he said at a Friday press conference. Pressed on whether he’d be choosing people of color as Defense secretary and attorney general, he declined to say.


Latino advocates have been pressing top Biden advisers to choose New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham as Health and Human Services secretary after the transition team moved away from her for that position. In response, the Biden camp leaked to reporters that they had picked her for Interior secretary and that she turned them down in the hopes of getting HHS.

When the Congressional Hispanic Caucus met with three of Biden’s top advisers on Thursday, members had believed Lujan Grisham was the most likely Latina to get a spot in the Biden cabinet and they publicly expressed dismay at the leaks suggesting she may not get a job at all.


The growing concerns over the health-secretary position reflect the chagrin expressed by Representative James Clyburn of South Carolina and other Black lawmakers over the number of African Americans selected so far for key roles. This week, Biden unveiled his economic team during a press event in Wilmington, Delaware, including four women, one Black man and one White man — with the cabinet-level jobs all going to women, including Yellen. All spoke of their humble beginnings and pledged to fight to close the wealth gap.

Two days later, Biden announced in a written statement the appointment of a White man, Brian Deese, to head the National Economic Council. TIAA Chief Executive Officer Roger Ferguson, who is Black, had also been under consideration for the job. {snip}

Clyburn and other members of the Congressional Black Caucus have made clear their preference for Ohio Representative Marcia Fudge, who is Black, to be Agriculture secretary. The Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus last month wrote to Biden asking him to include Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in his cabinet.

The Biden team slowed its selection process for Defense secretary after Black leaders expressed concerns that Biden might not name an African American to any of the top four cabinet departments — Defense, Justice, State or Treasury. {snip}

Two Black candidates, retired four-star General Lloyd Austin and former Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, have been reported to be among those Biden is now considering to lead the Pentagon, and Johnson has also been discussed as an option for attorney general.

Biden also faces pressure for diversity in political ideology. Progressive Democrats have also made clear their opposition to a range of potential picks and nominations, targeting people they see as potentially leading Biden away from his campaign promises to the left.