Up and down the administration, women and people of color are taking political roles — in the Cabinet, and as political appointees leading Washington’s bureaucracies.
The Biden administration has seen historic firsts in the form of the first woman to serve as vice president, the first female Treasury secretary, the first Black leader of the Pentagon and the first immigrant to run the Department of Homeland Security.
It remains early on in Biden’s presidency. He has yet to have his full Cabinet confirmed by the Senate, and he will still need to nominate and get confirmed dozens of deputy and senior-level officials. But experts indicated that based on initial data, paired with his choice of senior-level White House staff, Biden is on track to have a more diverse administration than any past president.
“Right now he’s adhering to his promise. I suspect he’s going to surpass his predecessors,” said Kathryn Dunn Tenpas, a senior fellow at the Miller Center at the University of Virginia who has tracked Cabinet and senior-level appointments across administrations.
Tenpas cautioned that there is limited data available on Biden’s Cabinet picks. Nearly 60 days into his administration, Biden is still without confirmed secretaries of Labor or Health and Human Services, and he has yet to nominate a director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) after Neera TandenNeera TandenSperling hired to oversee COVID-19 relief plan Collins to back Becerra for HHS Secretary Manchin cements key-vote status in 50-50 Senate MORE withdrew from consideration. The president must also fill out his administration with the scores of deputies and undersecretaries who make up senior leadership roles.
But those who have been confirmed underscore Biden’s commitment to diversity. In the 15 departments in the line of succession, nearly half of Biden’s appointees are women. The next highest percentage was former President Obama at 29 percent in his first 300 days in office, according to data Tenpas compiled.
“In addition to just the sheer numbers, there’s a depth of commitment because his appointments, a lot of them will make historic firsts,” Tenpas said.
Cecilia RouseCecilia RouseThe Hill’s 12:30 Report – Presented by Johns Hopkins University – Biden sets optimistic tone for summer The Hill’s Morning Report – Presented by the National Shooting Sports Foundation – Biden: Back to ‘normal’ still means ‘beat the virus’ Economists warn positive jobs report obscures challenges ahead MORE is the first Black chair of the Council of Economic Advisers. Kiran Ahuja, if confirmed, would be the first South Asian and first Asian American woman to lead the Office of Personnel Management. And Shalanda Young, viewed as the likely pick to lead OMB, would be the first Black woman to hold the role if nominated.
Biden’s senior staff are also noticeably more diverse than previous administrations, with several women in high-profile positions in particular. Biden’s communications director, press secretary, deputy press secretary, political director, head of the domestic policy council and legislative affairs director are all women.
The Biden-Harris transition put out a release at the end of December after the incoming administration had named its first 100 White House appointees. Of those 100, it boasted that 61 percent were women, 54 percent were people of color, 11 percent were LGBTQ appointees and nearly 20 percent were first-generation Americans.
“President BidenJoe BidenThe Hill’s Morning Report – Presented by Facebook – Split screen: Biden sells stimulus; GOP highlights border RNC to shadow Biden as he promotes COVID-19 relief bill Dems’ momentum hits quagmire over infrastructure plans MORE and Vice President Harris promised that their Cabinet and Administration would reflect the diversity of the country, and that’s exactly what they have done,” a White House official said. “Not only are these cabinet officials and staff members some of the top experts in their fields, but they bring the life experience and perspective to help address the urgent crises facing our nation as we work to build the country back better than ever before.”
Some groups have urged Biden to nominate more Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders to high-ranking positions, noting that it’s the fastest growing demographic in the country but is only represented in the Cabinet by Katherine TaiKatherine TaiThe Hill’s 12:30 Report – Presented by Facebook – What’s happening on the US border This week: Democrats eye next step after coronavirus relief bill win US, EU to suspend .5B in tariffs for four months MORE, the nominee to be U.S. trade representative.
Oscar Ramirez, a former Obama administration official who is the co-founder of Fulcrum Public Affairs, said he believes the Biden administration has done a better job than the Obama White House in installing diverse officials at the Cabinet level and with senior White House-level appointments in the first few months.
He said it would be worth monitoring appointments at the National Economic Council, the Domestic Policy Council and at deputy secretary positions moving forward.
“In those places I don’t think you’re quite seeing numbers that we need to see,” he said. “But it’s still early, so that’s where I think the administration needs to focus on making sure they have a lot of diverse appointments.”
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