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Sen. Tammy Duckworth and the White House broke an impasse over the Illinois Democrat’s pledge to block President Biden’s nominees who aren’t diverse candidates as a protest over a lack of Asian American representation in the new administration.
Under their deal announced late Tuesday, the White House will add a senior liaison to the community and, in exchange, Duckworth will support Biden’s nominees.
“Senator Duckworth appreciates the Biden administration’s assurances that it will do much more to elevate AAPI voices and perspectives at the highest levels of government, including appointing an AAPI senior White House official to represent the community, secure the confirmation of AAPI appointments and advance policy proposals that are relevant and important to the community,” Ben Gash Garmisa, a Duckworth spokesman, said in a statement. “Accordingly, she will not stand in the way of President Biden’s qualified nominees—which will include more AAPI leaders.”
The about-face came after Duckworth and fellow Democrat Mazie Hirono of Hawaii pledged to vote no on any White House nominees who aren’t diverse candidates. Hirono said late Tuesday she too changed her position.
“There’s no AAPI representation in the Cabinet,” Duckworth told Capitol Hill reporters Tuesday afternoon. “There’s not a single AAPI in a Cabinet position. That’s unacceptable.”
Duckworth, who is Thai American, said she had been talking to the White House for months over concerns about the lack of representation of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, even giving the White House names of “well-qualified AAPI” candidates “who never even got a phone call.”
Biden pledged to build the most diverse Cabinet in history, and about half of his Cabinet picks have been nonwhite. Speaking about Duckworth’s decision on Tuesday, Biden said: “We have the most diverse Cabinet in history. We have a lot of Asian Americans that are in the Cabinet and in sub-Cabinet levels.”
There are no Asian Americans in Biden’s Cabinet and just a handful in top positions like U.S. trade representative (a Cabinet-level position but not a Cabinet member) and surgeon general.
In a statement late Tuesday, Jen Psaki, Biden’s spokeswoman, said: “The White House will add a senior level Asian American Pacific Islander liaison, who will ensure the community’s voice is further represented and heard.”
Duckworth said her frustration hit a breaking point after a call Monday evening with Biden aides during which she said White House Deputy Chief of Staff Jen O’Malley Dillon pointed to Vice President Harris’ South Asian heritage.