116 lawmakers ask Biden for an AAPI Cabinet Secretary


Ami Bera, Pramila Jayapal and Raja Krishnamoorthi back community’s demand.

As many as 116 current and incoming members of Congress, including three Indian American lawmakers, are pushing President-elect Joe Biden to name an Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Cabinet Secretary.

Led by Rep. Judy Chu, Chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC), the lawmakers sent a letter to Biden Tuesday seeking a meeting “to discuss the importance of AAPI inclusion and the the significance of not having an AAPI Secretary serving in a presidential Administration for the first time in over 20 years.”

The letter is signed by three of the four Indian American members of the House — Ami Bera, Pramila Jayapal and Raja Krishnamoorthi. Indian Americans are counted among AAPI.

Besides Vice President elect Kamala Harris, daughter of an Indian mother and a Jamaican father, the Biden cabinet would have Indian American Neera Tanden as Director of Office of Management and Budget. Vivek Murthy, whose parents, like Harris’s and Tanden’s, were from India, would as Biden’s Surgeon General have a sub-cabinet job.

“While we applaud your historic selection of Kamala Harris to be the first woman, first Black, and first Asian American Vice President in our nation’s history, we are deeply concerned that for the first time in over two decades, there may not be a single AAPI represented amongst the 15 Cabinet heads in our federal government,” they wrote.

READ: Health, jobs, economy top concerns of older Asian American voters (October 26, 2020)

So far, in a departure from the past four Administrations, none of the 12 Cabinet Secretaries nominated thus far by the President-elect have been AAPI, the lawmakers wrote.

“For too long, AAPIs have been overlooked in critical decisions pertaining to diversity, equity, and inclusion, and AAPIs continue to be left out of important policy discussions impacting communities of color.”

“We see this in topics ranging from the disproportionate health and economic impacts of the covid-19 pandemic to critical policy priorities like immigration reform,” they wrote.

“The need for diversity at the highest levels is not for the sake of optics. It’s about ensuring all experiences are reflected in our decision making. As we know, ‘personnel is policy.’

“And when we have diverse leaders in positions of power, it leads to more inclusive policies that better serve the entirety of our country, they wrote. “That is why we strongly believe there must be an AAPI Cabinet Secretary in your administration, just as there has been for over 20 years.”

“The AAPI community is the fastest growing racial population in the nation and makes up 7% of the total United States population,” the letter noted.

READ: 13 groups join hands to support AAPI candidates (May 18, 2018)

“AAPIs are also the fastest growing segment of the US electorate and turned out in record numbers this year, with over two-thirds of the AAPI vote supporting your election,” the lawmakers wrote.

“There are over 2 million AAPI workers in the healthcare, transportation, and service industries that are on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

“In addition, there are nearly 2 million Asian American-owned businesses that generate over $700 billion in annual revenue who are facing dire economic impacts, as well as millions of AAPIs who are facing surging unemployment and anti-Asian discrimination due to the current crisis,” they wrote.

Meanwhile, the Washington Post cited Biden transition officials as repeatedly pointing not only to Harris, but also to the selection of Katherine Tai as US trade representative and Tanden as the nominee to head OMB, both Cabinet-level roles.

“Though we’re proud of Kamala D. Harris being both Black and AAPI, it’s abundantly clear that [Black civil rights groups and lawmakers] were not told that they should be satisfied with her and not go for any Cabinet secretary position,” Chu told The Post.

“During the campaign, Biden said he would have the most diverse cabinet ever,” she was quoted as saying.

READ: AAPI condemns Trump’s executive order (February 1, 2017)

“The truth is, at this point, that it’s the most diverse administration ever, except for AAPIs, and we are being talked down to by the Biden transition team that we should be satisfied being in a secondary place and that is not acceptable.”

Jayapal told the Post she was unsure why their requests for an AAPI cabinet secretary were being ignored.

“We can assume that it’s because they don’t respect the AAPI community, they don’t think we have political power, we’re not making enough of a public stink,” she was quoted as saying.

“I mean, there are all kinds of assumptions that we could draw. We’ve been trying not to draw those assumptions, but it gets harder and harder, as we see our requests be ignored.”


10 Asian American, Pacific Islanders to be honored by the White House for being ‘Champions of Change’ (May 2, 2016)

More than 1,500 attend White House AAPI summit (May 16, 2015)

3 Indian Americans sworn in by Biden to Advisory Commission on Asian American and Pacific Islanders (May 8, 2014)

3 Indian Americans nominated by Obama to Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (April 25, 2014)

Indian American Preeta Bansal honored at APAICS gala (May 16, 2018)


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