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Lawmakers demand Biden include Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders in Cabinet

A failure to appoint any of them to the Cabinet, Rep. Judy Chu told NBC Asian America, would send a “terrible message that being inclusive does not require including AAPIs.”
Image: U.S. President-elect Joe Biden speaks after meeting with governors in Wilmington, Delaware
President-elect Joe Biden speaks to reporters following an online meeting with members of the National Governors Association in Wilmington, Del., on Nov. 19, 2020.Tom Brenner / Reuters

Members of Congress are demanding Asian American and Pacific Islander representation in President-elect Joe Biden’s Cabinet.

In a letter from the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus sent to Biden on Saturday, lawmakers urged the president-elect to ensure that members of the racial groups constitute at least 7 percent of Cabinet-level and other appointed personnel within the federal workforce, reflective of their proportion in the U.S. population.

Given Biden’s own vow to prioritize diversity in his administration, the lawmakers wrote that they’re holding him to his word.

“In order to ensure your administration is filled with appointees who truly reflect the strength and diversity of our nation, we urge you to continue this trend of appointing AAPI candidates to the Cabinet and prioritizing AAPI representation throughout your administration,” the lawmakers wrote.

More than a dozen sitting lawmakers, including Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, and Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., as well as officials elected during this election cycle like Democrat Kaiali'i Kahele, the second Native Hawaiian in history to be elected to Congress, signed the letter. Rep. Judy Chu, chair of CAPAC, pointed out that the demands follow Biden’s own pledge to diversity. In his first speech as president-elect earlier this month, Biden said he wanted his administration to reflect the American population.

"I said from the outset I wanted a campaign that represented America, and I think we did that. Now that’s what I want the administration to look like," he said in his victory speech.

As of Monday, the president-elect revealed a slate of top foreign policy and national security picks. No Asian American and Pacific Islander candidates have been announced thus far aside from Vice-president-elect Kamala Harris.

A failure to appoint any from the racial groups to the Cabinet, Chu told NBC Asian America, would send a “terrible message that being inclusive does not require including AAPIs.”

Rep. Judy Chu, D-Calif., appears at a news conference on Capitol Hill on July 24, 2020, on the extension of federal unemployment benefits.Andrew Harnik / AP file

“As a consequence, more AAPIs will feel excluded and invisible, and fewer will see a future for themselves in government,” Chu said.

The lawmaker pointed out that Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders showed up to the ballot box in record numbers this year. Data shows that in 13 of the most contested presidential battleground states, the groups' early and absentee voting rose almost 300 percent from 2016, more than any other racial group. And the NBC News Exit Poll of early and Election Day voters revealed that the groups heavily favored Biden over Trump by a margin of 63 percent to 31 percent. Chu called Asian Americans an “integral part of the diverse coalition who supported Joe Biden.” However she noted that on critical issues including immigration reform and the disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on communities of color, the group often remains left out of the conversation.

“To not have a seat at the table in an administration that is so proudly diverse would make it even harder to be heard,” Chu said.

The lawmaker said that no one person could ever be completely representative of the entirety of the Asian American and Pacific Islander population, especially given its unique diversity with its dozens of ethnic groups and languages. And this is why, Chu added, that “diversity is essential in building a more inclusive government.”

“We must ensure the full spectrum of experiences and needs in this country are reflected at all levels of the federal government, and the only way to guarantee that the AAPI experience is included is to include AAPI candidates,” she said. “Like other communities, AAPIs are not a monolith, which is all the more reason that we must include diverse candidates who can help represent Americans whose voices have been overlooked.”

The legislators have been joined by a chorus of community leaders who are also demanding proper representation within Biden’s Cabinet, including Madalene Mielke, president & CEO of the Asian Pacific American Institute for Congressional Studies, David Inoue, executive director of the Japanese American Citizens League, and Thu Nguyen, director of OCA-Asian Pacific American Advocates. Together, the leaders released a statement under the coalition National Council of Asian Pacific Americans.

“For months, as discussions finally began to grapple with the deadly consequences of racial health disparities, Pacific Islanders and other Asian American communities were largely ignored,” they wrote in a statement. “Our country is in desperate need of inspired leadership; and our communities deserve to be heard and seen.”