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Duckworth Pressures Biden to Nominate More Asian-Americans For Cabinet Roles

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Senator Tammy Duckworth, Democrat of Illinois, said on Tuesday that she would refuse to vote for any of President Biden’s nominees “other than diversity nominees” until the White House addressed what she called an unacceptable dearth of Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders serving in top administration posts.

Her ultimatum came as Mr. Biden faces mounting pressure on the issue amid a growing tide of racism toward Asian-Americans during the pandemic, culminating in last week’s deadly shootings in Atlanta.

Ms. Duckworth and Senator Mazie Hirono, Democrat of Hawaii, said they used a private video meeting on Monday night with other Senate Democrats to tell Mr. Biden’s top advisers, including the deputy chief of staff, Jennifer O’Malley Dillon, that the scarcity of Asian-American cabinet-level officials was “not acceptable” and needed to be promptly addressed. The pair are the only two Asian-American members of the Senate.

Ms. Duckworth said she followed up Tuesday morning to inform the White House she was “a no on everything other than the diversity candidates” who came before the Senate until she felt Mr. Biden’s team was taking the right steps, beginning with the president’s nominee for under secretary of defense for policy. With the Senate divided evenly between the two parties, her opposition could create considerable pressure to find an agreement.

“I’ve been talking to them for months,” Ms. Duckworth said in an interview. “They are still not aggressive, so I am not going to be voting for any nominee from the White House other than diversity nominees. I’ll be a ‘no’ on everyone until they figure that out.”

Open disputes between Mr. Biden and Democrats on Capitol Hill have been relatively rare in his first months on the job. But prominent Asian-American lawmakers who have been quietly agitating around nominations and appointments for months, signaled they were done giving the White House the benefit of the doubt.

During the meeting Monday night, Ms. Duckworth said that Ms. O’Malley Dillon pointed out that Vice President Kamala Harris, whose mother was from India, and Katherine Tai, the top American trade envoy who is of Chinese descent, were Asian-American. The White House considers both women to be part of the Cabinet, though they do not lead executive departments.

Ms. Duckworth, who is Thai American, called the invocation of Ms. Harris to placate her concerns “insulting.”

“That is not something you would say to the Black Caucus — ‘Well you have Kamala, we’re not going to put any more African Americans in the Cabinet because you have Kamala,’” she said to reporters on Tuesday.

“Why would you say it to AAPI?” she added, referring to Asian-American and Pacific Islander.

Ms. Duckworth added that for months she had given the White House names of possible Asian-American nominees “who never even got a phone call.”

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Axios first reported details of the Monday exchange.

Ms. Hirono was less pointed in her criticism, but said on Tuesday that she shared Ms. Duckworth’s “frustration.” They are two of only eight Asian-Americans ever to serve in the Senate, including Ms. Harris.

“I realize that we have Katherine Tai, but I don’t think trade representative is what the community understands as a cabinet-level,” she said.

Ms. Hirono, who is Japanese American, said she had also pressed the White House to more regularly poll Asian-American and Pacific Islanders as a group when gauging support for policy proposals, like they would Black Americans, women and other groups.

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