WASHINGTON — President-elect Joe Biden's early picks for top administration jobs made history for elevating women, people of color and immigrants. But advocates want to see more racial diversity closer to the center of power, putting pressure on Biden as he moves to a new round of selections next week.
He is now drawing criticism over the makeup of his inner circle from Black and Latino lawmakers, and groups like the NAACP and UnidosUS are demanding more say on selections. Amid those objections, his transition team slowed its decision on a Defense secretary, and its choice of a health secretary is emerging as a new flashpoint before an announcement as soon as next week.
The incoming administration broke major barriers with the selection of Kamala Harris as the first Black and Indian-American woman for vice president, along with two Black women, a Latino immigrant and an Indian-American woman for key economic and national security posts. Yet advocates say those officials won't be as close to the seat of power as the white people the president-elect chose for key posts — including Janet Yellen for Treasury Secretary, Antony Blinken for Secretary of State and Ron Klain as chief of staff.
"The reality is that there are not enough Black people in his inner circle," said David Clunie, the executive director of the Black Economic Alliance and a former Obama administration official.
Biden acknowledged, and even welcomed, the pressure and promised to follow through.
"I promise you, it will be the single most diverse cabinet based on race, color, based on gender that's ever existed in the United States of America," he said at a Friday press conference. Pressed on whether he'd be choosing people of color to the Defense secretary and attorney general, he declined to say.
He said in a CNN interview on Thursday that he was hearing from advocacy groups but recognized "it's their job to push me."
Latino advocates have been pressing top Biden advisers to choose New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham as Health and Human Services secretary after the transition team moved away from her for that position. In response, the Biden camp leaked to reporters that they had picked her for Interior secretary and that she turned them down in the hopes of getting HHS.
When the Congressional Hispanic Caucus met with three of Biden's top advisers on Thursday, members had believed Lujan Grisham was the most likely Latina to get a spot in the Biden cabinet and they publicly expressed dismay at the leaks suggesting she may not get a job at all.
"This was to kind of throw her under the bus," Arizona Rep. Raul Grijalva said. During the meeting, "almost all the members commented on that, how they felt that that was a raw deal that the governor got — that that kind of publicity was meant to undermine any effort of her getting HHS."