Sen. Tammy Duckworth threatens to block Biden Cabinet, judicial nominees over lack of AAPI diversity

WASHINGTON – Senator Tammy Duckworth said Tuesday the lack of representation from Asia-American or Pacific Islanders in President Joe Biden’s cabinet was “unacceptable” and threatened to withhold her vote on key nominations until the government addressed the matter.

Duckworth, an Illinois Democrat, told reporters that she raised her concerns to White House officials on Tuesday.

Her threat to withhold support could complicate matters for Biden as other high-level administrative and judicial appointments that require Senate affirmation advance in an evenly-divided Senate where Vice President Kamala Harris holds a groundbreaking vote.

The senator, who is of Thai descent and has been considered for a cabinet role, noted that the presidents have added AAPI people to their cabinets for the past 20 years.

“I’ve talked to them for months and they are still not aggressive, so I won’t be choosing any other White House candidate as a candidate for Diversity,” Duckworth told reporters. “I’ll be no to everyone until they find out.”

Biden officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Duckworth’s threat to withhold support for candidates.

Harris is the first black Indian-American woman to hold the vice presidency. U.S. Sales Agent Katherine Tai, confirmed last week, is the first Asian-American and first woman of color to serve in the position.

Biden also nominated Neera Tanden as director of the Office of Budget & Management, but she withdrew her nomination after it became clear that she would have difficulty winning an endorsement. Tanden was turned down by Republicans and Senator Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat, for offensive tweets against Republican lawmakers she posted prior to her nomination.

Duckworth said administrative officials took note of the selection of Tai and Tanden, who are both high-level picks but not part of the president’s cabinet, when she raised her concerns.

That didn’t go well with Duckworth.

“To know that you have Kamala Harris, we are very proud of you that you don’t need anyone to offend,” said Duckworth.

Senator Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, also said she had expressed frustration with the Biden administration over the lack of representation but did not threaten to block candidates.

“I shared the frustration the AAPI community has over the fact that there are no significant numbers of AAPIs at the cabinet level,” she told reporters. “I don’t think the sales representative is what the community understands as a cabinet level.”


Associate press writer Lisa Mascaro from Washington contributed to this report.

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