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Dem Senators Drop Ultimatum To Block Biden Nominees After White House Announces AAPI Liaison

Sens. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) and Mazie Hirono (D-HI) had said they would not vote to confirm President Biden’s Cabinet members over a lack of Asian American representation.

L: Sen. Mazie Hirono, (D-HI) speaks during the Senate Democrats' news conference to officially file petition to force a vote on net neutrality on Wednesday, May 9, 2018. R: Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) participates in a news conference following the bipartisan Senate vote on the War Powers Resolution on Iran at the U.S. Capitol on February 13, 2020 in Washington, D.C. | Getty Images
L: Sen. Mazie Hirono, (D-HI) speaks during the Senate Democrats' news conference to officially file petition to force a vote on net neutrality on Wednesday, May 9, 2018. R: Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) participates in a news conference following the bipartisan Senate vote on the War Powers Resolution on Iran at the U.S. Capitol on February 13, 2020 in Washington, D.C. | Getty Images

Sens. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) and Mazie Hirono (D-HI) have dropped their threats to oppose President Joe Biden’s Cabinet nominees over a lack of Asian American representation after the White House announced it will appoint a senior-level Asian American Pacific Islander liaison, according to multiple reports. The ultimatum from the Senate’s two Asian American Democrats came after an increase in anti-Asian hate crimes in the U.S. and deadly mass shootings in Atlanta, GA.  

Sens. Duckworth and Hirono reportedly said on Tuesday that they would vote “no” on some of Biden’s Cabinet nominees until the administration vowed to add a senior-level AAPI adviser. Biden defended his cabinet picks on Tuesday, telling reporters, “we have the most diverse Cabinet in history. We have a lot of Asian Americans who are in the Cabinet and sub-Cabinet levels.”

The senators’ threats came after they reportedly confronted Biden administration officials on Monday night about the lack of diversity in the Cabinet.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement Tuesday night to multiple outlets that the administration would add a senior-level AAPI liaison to “ensure the community’s voice is further represented and heard.” She did not specify who would be chosen for the position and when. According to The Washington Post, the White House has had an AAPI liaison to the community “for several years.” 

Sen. Hirono confirmed Tuesday night that she would continue to vote on the “highly qualified nominees President Biden has appointed.”

“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,” she said. 

Sen. Duckworth’s spokesperson told The Post that she would join Hirono in voting on the cabinet nominees after the liaison position was announced.

After Biden won the election, more than 100 members of Congress sent him a joint letter in December calling for an AAPI cabinet secretary. 

“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,” the letter read. “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.”

Neera Tanden, who is Indian American, was Biden’s nominee for director of the Office of Management and Budget and would have become the first Asian American woman in the role. But she withdrew her nomination after GOP senators along with Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin (WV) vowed to oppose her confirmation over past tweets critical of Republicans, for which she apologized

The demand for more AAPI representation in the White House comes after reports of increased anti-Asian hate crimes throughout the pandemic, with critics saying the hateful rhetoric was exacerbated by former President Trump repeatedly referring to COVID-19 as the “China Virus.” Last week, a white man shot and killed eight people, including six women of Asian descent, during a shooting spree at three Atlanta-area spas. 

Data collected by the Center for the Study of Hate & Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino found a 149% increase in anti-Asian hate crimes in 16 of the largest U.S. cities in 2020. The study also found that the first spike in crimes occured in March and April — when the COVID-19 virus was first rapidly spreading.

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