March 24, 2021

Duckworth withdraws pledge to hold up Biden appointees as White House offers a senior staffer to hear Asian American and Pacific Islander concerns

Source: Chicago Tribune


U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth has withdrawn her vow to put a hold on President Joe Biden’s government nominees over a lack of Asian American and Pacific Islander representation after the White House vowed to hire a senior official to hear the community’s concerns.

Duckworth, the first Thai American in Congress, raised the issue of AAPI representation in the White House at a time of increasing fears over violence against the community in the aftermath of a shooting in Atlanta earlier this month when a gunman killed eight people, mostly women of Asian descent.

Her threat to hold up nominees underscored the power that a single Democrat has in the 50-50 Senate, where Democrats have control because of Vice President Kamala Harris’ ability to break ties.

On Tuesday, Duckworth, who is running for reelection next year, said a call a day earlier between Senate Democrats and Biden aides was the “trigger” for her vow. She said after she asked about Asian American representation in the Biden administration, White House deputy chief of staff Jen O’Malley Dillon made a reference to Harris’ South Asian American heritage.

“To be told that you have Kamala Harris, we are proud of her, you don’t need anybody else is insulting,” Duckworth told reporters. “That’s not something you would say to the Black Caucus: That you have Kamala, we’re not going to be put any African Americans in the Cabinet, why would you say that to AAPIs?”

Duckworth then pledged to put a hold on Biden nominees who lacked “diversity” while she would back those supported by the Black, Hispanic or Congressional Asian Pacific American caucuses.

Made aware of her pledge, in which she was later joined by Sen. Mazie Hirono of Hawaii, the White House announced it would be hiring a “senior level Asian American Pacific Islander liaison who will ensure the community’s voice is further represented,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said.

“We have AAPI staff at senior levels and at all levels of the administration and we will continue to work to find ways to elevate AAPI voices at the highest level of government,” Psaki said Wednesday.

“Obviously there are more positions and roles that we need to fill and I will say, first and foremost, the president’s view is that we need to listen and that is an important component of how we’re communicating with members of Congress as concerns arise,” she said.

In a statement from her office, Duckworth said she appreciated the Biden administration’s “assurances that it will do much more to elevate AAPI voices and perspectives at the highest levels of government.” As a result, Duckworth would not block Biden nominees, “which will include more AAPI leaders.”

Duckworth has been increasingly outspoken on AAPI issues in recent days. Last week, she sent letters to U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland and FBI Director Christopher Wray asking them strengthen criminal investigations and prosecution of Asian American hate crimes.

By:  Rick Pearson