In President-Elect Joe Biden‘s victory speech, he made it clear it was Black voters who saved his once-struggling campaign and delivered him the presidency. Biden emphatically exclaimed “You [Black voters] always had my back, and I’ll have yours”, and now this powerful voting bloc is holding him to his promise. As the incoming cabinet takes shape there is growing dissent from Black lawmakers and activists surrounding his picks, as only two Black Americans have been chosen so far.
The only Black members of the burgeoning Cabinet are Linda Thomas-Greenfield, Ambassador to the United Nations, and Cecilia Rouse, Chair of the Council of Economic Advisers. Advocates have made it clear that they want to see the administration put Democrats’ staunchest voting bloc in pivotal roles right from day one. Several Cabinet positions must still be named, but Black leaders increasingly are publicly worrying that the president-elect and his incoming administration will fall short of the pact.
One area of concern is that Biden’s transition team lacks connections to the civil rights community but features members with ties to organizations such as the Sierra Club and the American Civil Liberties Union. Derrick Johnson, NAACP President, acknowledged “We have yet to meet with the President-Elect, and that is concerning because we are here to support this administration in its effort to be successful.”
Asked about those comments, Biden transition spokesperson Cameron French reiterated Biden’s goal of putting together “a diverse administration that looks like America.” French’s observation is correct as stronger Black representation does exist in the forming administration below the cabinet level.
Rep. Cedric Richmond has been named Director of the White House Office of Public Engagement while also serving as a senior adviser. Wally Adeyemo would be the first Black deputy Treasury secretary and the highest-ranking Black official in the history of the department. Karine Jean-Pierre will be principal deputy press secretary, on the first ever all-female White House communications team. Also Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris will have two Black women in senior roles; Ashley Etienne and Symone Sanders.
Rep. James Clyburn, the top-ranking Black lawmaker in Congress, and a powerful Biden surrogate has also expressed concerns about representation. “I want to see where the process leads to, what it produces,” Clyburn said “But so far it’s not good.” One desire is for a Black person to be selected as the new Secretary of Treasury, State, Defense or Justice. With two of the big four cabinet positions remaining; former Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson and former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick have both appeared on shortlists to head the Pentagon and the Justice Department, respectively.
As inauguration day draws closer President-Elect Biden faces increasing pressure to diversify his cabinet but as Democratic strategist Antjuan Seawright stated Cabinet selection is “a marathon, not a sprint.”
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