White House to add Asian American Pacific Islander liaison after Democrats threaten to block Biden nominees


Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill.
Tom Williams | CQ Roll Call | Getty Images

The White House said it will appoint a “senior level” Asian American Pacific Islander liaison, an official told NBC News on Wednesday.

The announcement came after two Democratic senators, Tammy Duckworth of Illinois and Hawaii’s Mazie Hirono, vowed to vote against President Joe Biden‘s nominees in protest of what they said was a lack of AAPI representation in his administration.

Duckworth and Hirono later walked back the threats, saying they had received new assurances from the White House.

The row over AAPI representation in the administration comes as Biden has sought to rally the American people against a risein violence and discrimination targeting Asian Americans over the past year amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“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,” Psaki said.

Senator Mazie Hirono attends a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing for Christine Blasey Ford to testify about sexual assault allegations against Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., September 27, 2018.
Erin Schaff | Reuters

A day earlier, Duckworth criticized the administration for appointing “not a single AAPI” official to a Cabinet-level position.

“That’s not acceptable. That’s what I told the White House,” said Duckworth, who is the first Thai American woman elected to Congress.

Duckworth said Tuesday that “until they figure this out,” she would vote no “on everything other than the diversity candidates.”

Hirono on Tuesday evening joined Duckworth’s protest, telling reporters they are demanding “a commitment from the White House that there’ll be more diversity representation in the Cabinet, and in senior White House positions.”

Until then, Hirono said, she would join Duckworth in “voting no on non-diversity nominees.”

But Hirono reversed course that night, following initial reports about the new AAPI liaison role.

“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.

“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.”

Duckworth also backed off her threat.

The senator “appreciates the Biden Administration’s assurances that it will do much more to elevate AAPI voices and perspectives at the highest levels of government,” her spokesman Ben Garmisa said in a statement.

“Accordingly, she will not stand in the way of President Biden’s qualified nominees—which will include more AAPI leaders,” the statement said.

Programming note: CNBC’s “Race & Opportunity in America: The Asian-American Experience” will air at 8 p.m. ET on Wed., March 31.

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