A group of lawmakers and civil rights groups are demanding that President-elect Joe Biden appoint Black and Latino nominees to some of the remaining high-level Cabinet positions, as Biden faces increasing pressure to diversify his administration.
The push comes as activists and elected officials insist that Biden is not doing enough to meet his promise of creating an administration that reflects the nation’s diversity. The latest effort comes from members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, who in a letter obtained by CNN, requested that Biden appoint either California Attorney General Xavier Becerra or Democratic National Committee Chair Tom Perez to serve as the US Attorney General.
“We are confident that either would lead the Department with distinction, champion equal protection under the law, and advance the cause of justice for all Americans,” the letter read.
The Congressional Hispanic Caucus met virtually with incoming White House chief of staff Ron Klain, as well as key Biden transition team leaders Jeffrey Zients and Ted Kaufman, on Thursday afternoon, with a source on the call describing it as “diplomatic but tense.”
The source said the caucus was clear with the Biden team that it wants New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham for secretary of health and human services and Becerra or Perez to serve as attorney general.
So far, Biden has named four people of color to his Cabinet: UN Ambassador nominee Linda Thomas-Greenfield, a Black woman, Secretary of Homeland Security nominee Alejandro Mayorkas, a Cuban American man who would be the first Latino to serve in the position if confirmed by the Senate, and Neera Tanden, who is the first woman of color and first South Asian person nominated to lead the Office of Management and Budget. Cecilia Rouse, a Black woman, was nominated to chair the Council of Economic Advisers, a position which Biden announced last week he will elevate to the Cabinet level.
Biden, however, named White nominees to two of the highest-profile Cabinet positions – secretary of state and treasury secretary. Black and Latino leaders are concerned that people of color are primarily being nominated to second-tier positions in Biden’s administration and urging Biden to choose diverse candidates fill the remaining high-profile positions, saying it will give underrepresented groups a voice in the nation’s leadership. Their demands come as the nation reels from police killings of Black people, massive protests calling for racial equality this year and President Donald Trump’s anti-immigration policies.
Leaders from seven Black-led civil rights groups say they requested a meeting to discuss the need for more Black nominees to Biden’s Cabinet.
The groups included the National Action Network, NAACP, National Urban League, National Coalition of Black Civic Participation, NAACP Legal Defense Fund, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, and the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. The Washington Post first reported on their request for a meeting.
Rev. Al Sharpton, who leads the National Action Network, said Biden has not yet agreed to a date for the meeting. He would like to see Black leaders in positions such as US attorney general, secretary of education and secretary of labor.
“We are in an era of heightened alert in the areas of race and criminal justice,” Sharpton told CNN. “And anything that does not recognize that means that people who voted for him, feeling he would deal with this issue, will feel a sense of betrayal.”
The effort, which is focused on increasing representation at the highest level of government, is also about keeping certain potential Cabinet picks out of the Biden administration.
NAACP President Derrick Johnson told CNN Wednesday, there are at least two examples of names that are currently being floated for administration roles that would be “extremely problematic for the African-American community:” Former White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, who is being considered for transportation secretary, and former Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, whose name has been floated to fill that position again.
Emanuel’s handling of the police shooting of Laquan McDonald has drawn fierce criticism from civil rights groups. Vilsack in 2010 had to apologize to Shirley Sherrod, a Black woman, for forcing her to resign from her government job in Georgia based on incomplete and misleading reports of a speech she gave.
As pressure mounts from outside groups like the National Urban League and NAACP for Biden to meet with them and discuss the future of his cabinet, members of the Congressional Black Caucus are also calling for greater transparency from Biden’s team on their plans for future nominations.
New Jersey Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman, a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, told CNN that while there have been some preliminary conversations with Biden’s team about his first 100 days and hiring, she needs to see more Black men and women selected to top tier positions.
Emphasizing she wasn’t speaking for the Black caucus and only stating her own opinion, Coleman said she has been “disappointed” so far with the number of Black women who have been selected for top posts.
Biden has selected Rouse to lead his Council of Economic Advisers and Thomas-Greenfield to be the next US ambassador to the UN, both Black women, but Coleman says she hopes there will be more.
“I am disappointed I have not seen enough Black women or Black men. I recognize there are a lot more positions to be announced,” she said.
On the night that Biden gave his acceptance speech, he recognized the Black community had been the cornerstone of his electoral success both in the primary and in the general election saying, “The African American community stood up again for me. You’ve always had my back, and I’ll have yours.”
Coleman said on that night, the line stuck out to her and that it means something now.
“The Black community does have high expectations that is not just about naming a whole bunch of people to random positions, but it means that we are at the table when the important conversations are had, when the policies and priorities are determined,” she said.
Her comments also come after South Carolina Rep. Jim Clyburn, a member of Democratic leadership, has been pushing for Ohio Rep. Marcia Fudge to take the top slot at the Department of Agriculture. Clyburn has said that the Biden team needs to continue appointing more Black men and women to top posts.
Clyburn said Wednesday evening that he’s watching as Biden continues to make his Cabinet picks, with an eye diversity, and said, “I can think of at least 10 black folks that qualify for every single one,” of the cabinet posts.
In addition to the three Cabinet-level positions that could be filled by people of color pending their confirmation by the Senate, Biden has also announced a number of historic firsts to other positions in his administration. Wally Adeyemo would be the first Black person to serve as treasury deputy secretary, for example, and Rouse is the first Black person nominated to serve as chair of the Council of Economic Advisers.
“President-elect Biden will build a diverse administration that looks like America, starting with the first woman of South Asian descent and first Black woman to serve as Vice President-elect,” said transition spokesperson Cameron French in a statement to CNN. “His campaign and transition both succeeded in this effort. He has announced several historic and diverse White House appointments and cabinet nominees to this point, and his success in finding diverse voices to develop and implement his policy vision to tackle our nation’s toughest challenges will be clear when our full slate of appointees and nominees is complete.”
Outside groups seek meetings with transition
Johnson of the NAACP told CNN Wednesday that his organization and other civil rights groups have requested time with Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris to discuss the new administration and ensuring minority and civil rights representation in the Biden government’s agenda.
They’ve yet to hear back from the transition team, Johnson said.
A Biden transition official told CNN that they have been engaged with the NAACP LDF and the National Urban League.
“This is about ensuring that there is a civil rights agenda embedded in the decision of the administration,” Johnson said. “There have been several meetings with other constituency groups. There’s not been a meeting with the civil rights community. We want to meet so we can provide the necessary feedback and input so they can be successful.”
“We don’t want the clock to run out before there’s a discussion or all the decisions are made,” Johnson said.
Janet Murguía, president and CEO of UnidosUS, is calling for at least five Latino secretaries in the Cabinet, and 800 – or 20%— of the 4,000 administration positions to be filled by qualified Latinos.
“Such Latino representation would not only reflect the reality of the United States, where Hispanics make up 18 percent of the population and are the largest ethnic minority bloc, but also honor the contributions Latinos have made to our country throughout its history,” Murguía said. “Everyone benefits when everyone has a chance to contribute.” ’
Sharpton told CNN that one of Biden’s most important picks to show he is serious about standing up for the Black community will come when he selects his attorney general.
“So far cosmetically it is good,” Sharpton said of Biden’s picks overall. “But I am concerned that we have justice, labor, education and agriculture still open…He has not engaged in conversations with many of us that he said he would.”
Sharpton argued that the important thing is for Black leaders and congressional leaders to speak up now.
“We don’t want to wait until the other shoe drops to say ‘hold it. We are concerned about that.’ We wanted to get ahead of it because already the top tier he has given is not as diverse as some of the other appointments. Other appointments are good, but they are not top tier,” Sharpton said. “We don’t want to be invited to the party after all the food has been eaten.”
Sharpton called Biden’s pick for attorney general “a critical point for reference on how Biden’s cabinet will be perceived.”
He argued that Tony West, the former associate attorney general during the Obama administration, or Deval Patrick, a civil rights lawyer and former Massachusetts governor, could be good picks.
He also named Sen. Doug Jones, a former US attorney from Alabama who had prosecuted civil rights cases.
“I am not saying they have to be Black, but they should be the kind of American that understands systematic racism,” Sharpton said.
This story has been updated with details of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus meeting with the Biden transition team.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated how many people of color Biden has named to his Cabinet. He has named four.
CNN”s Jessica Dean, MJ Lee and Sarah Mucha contributed to this report.