The calls for President-Elect Joe Biden to diversify his cabinet has intensified. The incoming president with Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris met virtually with leaders of seven of the nation’s most prominent civil rights organizations. The meeting included the NAACP, the National Urban League and the National Action Network, led by Rev. Al Sharpton. As described in a press release by attendees, the meeting discussed “racial equity, social justice, and increased diversity in the Biden-Harris Cabinet.”
The call comes as Biden and Harris have faced continued pressure from various interest groups to tap diverse picks to follow through on Biden’s long-held promise to appoint a Cabinet that “looks like America.” Despite the ongoing pressure campaign by some outside groups, Biden has maintained that it will be the most diverse in American history when his full Cabinet is announced.
Unlike the relationship with the outgoing administration, NAACP President and CEO Derrick Johnson said, “This administration. It’s not adversarial. It is open for dialogue.” Biden shared the same sentiments, stating, “Their job is to push me; my job is to keep my commitment and make the decisions.” The mutual respect shared by all groups involved led to the civil rights groups’ leaders speaking positively of the meeting but said their satisfaction ultimately would be determined by the president’s choices.
So far, Biden’s choices have aligned with his promise of compiling a diverse Cabinet. The president-elect’s team highlights the fact that several of Biden’s picks thus far have broken barriers, including the first women to lead the Treasury Department and the nation’s intelligence community, as well as the first Black American individuals to serve as chair of the Council of Economic Advisers and deputy treasury secretary. Also, Biden has selected retired Army Gen. Lloyd Austin as Secretary of Defense, one of the Big Four Cabinet positions, which will make him the first Black American to hold this powerful position.
Another key unfilled position is attorney general, a post that will take on an outsize significance in the wake of a summer that saw nationwide protests over racial injustice and the state of policing in America. Biden has demurred when asked if he would appoint a person of color to the role and has not yet announced when he expects to fill the position.
Sharpton stressed that his preference is to have a Black attorney general, noting that they would need to have a civil rights background. In contrast, Derrick Johnson believes the attorney general isn’t a person; it’s a profile. “The profile needs to be someone who understands how the department operates, who can increase the confidence and also get the support of the existing staff and have the courage to take all the hard issues that are going to be necessary, particularly around public corruption. You have to have someone who’s willing to step right into the office in the midst of a fire and be willing to take on the fight because this is not for the faint of heart.”
A specific name was never presented to Biden on who should be the attorney general, but there was a consensus. Everyone agreed that Biden’s pick for attorney general should be someone who will make it a top priority to reshape how the department handles both criminal justice and policing issues as well as voting rights enforcement through DOJ’s Civil Rights Division.