White House promises Asian American liaison after Democrats threaten confirmation votes

Talks with Duckworth, Hirono allay diversity concerns

Sen. Mazie K. Hirono, D-Hawaii, is one of two Asian American and Pacific Islander senators who pushed the White House for more AAPI nominees. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Sen. Mazie K. Hirono, D-Hawaii, is one of two Asian American and Pacific Islander senators who pushed the White House for more AAPI nominees. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted March 24, 2021 at 9:16am, Updated at 10:27am

Sens. Tammy Duckworth and Mazie K. Hirono are backing off their threat to not vote for any future Biden administration nominees who are white and straight until more Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are nominated to top positions. The change came after talks Tuesday night with the White House.

The White House is now pledging to appoint a high-level liaison to represent Asian American and Pacific Islander voices.

“The President has made it clear that his Administration will reflect the diversity of the country. That has always been, and remains our goal,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement. “The White House will add a senior level Asian American Pacific Islander liaison, who will ensure the community’s voice is further represented and heard.”

The announcement came after concerns about the lack of AAPI representation in President Joe Biden’s Cabinet led Duckworth, an Illinois Democrat, and Hirono, a Hawaii Democrat, to threaten to oppose “non-diversity nominees.” Duckworth and Hirono are the only two AAPI senators and would have considerable leverage in a 50-50 Senate.

“I had a productive conversation with the White House today to make clear my perspective about the importance of diversity in the President’s cabinet,” Hirono tweeted Tuesday night.

“Based on the private conversation we had, I will continue voting to confirm the historic and highly qualified nominees President Biden has appointed to serve in his administration,” she added.

[Duckworth, Hirono to vote ‘no’ on non-diverse Biden nominees]

Duckworth told the White House earlier this week that she would withhold her vote on confirmations of administration nominees who were not a racial minority or LGBTQ, until AAPI representation was addressed.

“I am a ‘no’ vote on the floor, on all non-diversity nominees. I will vote for racial minorities and I will vote for LGBTQ, but anybody else I’m not voting for,” she told reporters.

Hirono joined her in that pledge, which drove the White House to the table.

Duckworth said the White House has pointed to Vice President Kamala Harris, whose mother was an Indian immigrant and whose father was Black, as an example of high-ranking and extremely visible Asian American representation.

“To be told that, ‘Well, you have Kamala Harris, we’re very proud of her, you don’t need anybody else’ is insulting,” Duckworth said.

Duckworth announced late Tuesday night that in light of the conversations with the White House, she will change course and will not vote against administration nominees based on their demographic identities.

“Senator Duckworth appreciates the Biden Administration’s assurances that it will do much more to elevate AAPI voices and perspectives at the highest levels of government, including appointing an AAPI senior White House official to represent the community, secure the confirmation of AAPI appointments and advance policy proposals that are relevant and important to the community,” her office said in a statement. “Accordingly, she will not stand in the way of President Biden’s qualified nominees — which will include more AAPI leaders.”