. . Joe Biden promised to name the « most diverse » cabinet in US history. Behind the scenes, African Americans have tried to make sure he meets these commitments by appointing minorities to key positions.
« When this campaign was at its lowest, the African American community stood up for me again. You always had my back and I will have yours, « assured Biden in his victory speech on Jan.. November and promised that his government « would look like America. «
The Reverend Al Sharpton, a prominent US civil rights activist, recalled that slogan and said on Tuesday when Biden was in the midst of decision-making for several cabinet positions, « We want to make sure that promises are made, that promises are kept. « . «
Sharpton and other representatives of African American organizations emerged from a nearly two-hour meeting with Biden and Vice-President-elect Kamala Harris.
Biden reiterated his « historic commitment to racial justice, » said Marc Morial, executive director of the National Urban League, during an online press conference.
« And we have emphasized that it is our job as historic civil rights activists to help him and number two hold him accountable for the commitments made, » he said.
Biden, the former Vice President under Barack Obama, accepted this challenge during the discussions, added Morial. And the nominees, like Biden on Jan.. January will take their place in the White House largely reflect that promise.
Perhaps that became clearest on Tuesday, when Biden approached 67-year-old Army general Lloyd Austin as the next Secretary of Defense.
Several waiting cabinet members are already pointing the way. Janet Yellen would be the first woman to head the US Treasury Department. Xavier Becerra would be the only Spanish health minister so far. Alejandro Mayorkas the first Spanish homeland security chief; and Cecilia Rouse will be the first African American woman to chair the Economic Advisory Council.
And, of course, Barrier Breaker Harris will be the first black woman and first person of Indian heritage to serve as vice president.
« It looks like it is the most diverse cabinet a president has ever had, » Jordan Tama, a professor at American University, told AFP.
The minority candidates are in critical positions, he said, adding that given the budget and reach of the Pentagon, defense is « probably the most important » cabinet position.
The contrast with Donald Trump’s government is « quite striking », according to Tama. He said the outgoing president’s cabinet was « really unrepresentative of America » not only in terms of racial diversity but also in terms of professional background, with business leaders being over-represented during the brazen billionaire’s tenure.
Biden’s selection so far has been « a positive step in the right direction, but we look forward to more important appointments, » Morial warned after the Austin nomination was announced.
As on Thursday, Biden announced two more landmark tips: Susan Rice, one of the most prominent black women in American politics, has been named director of the White House’s Home Affairs Council, while progressive Congresswoman Marcia Fudge has been nominated to be housing secretary.
All eyes are now on one of the last important cabinet posts to be filled: the US Attorney General. The job came up while meeting Biden on Tuesday.
Sharpton said he directly told the president-elect that he would prefer a black attorney general. If not, « at least we could have someone with a proven civil background. «
Biden’s selection for his inner circle « has been largely unchallenged, » noted Kyle Kondik of the University of Virginia.
There are exceptions, however. Neera Tanden, the first woman of Indian descent to be appointed head of the White House Household Bureau, is being violently set back by Republicans and some progressives.
For the general, who retired in 2016, to take the reins of the Pentagon, Congress would have to give him a waiver, as a law prevents any veteran from becoming Secretary of Defense unless he has been for seven years no longer in the military.
Only two such exemptions were granted in 1950 and 2016. A handful of Democrats have already announced that they would not support a waiver of Austin, just as they did not support Jim Mattis when he requested and received one four years ago.
Sharpton was outraged on Tuesday at the thought of a no-waiver scenario. « We will not accept coming to the black man and suddenly we will change what we have already done twice, » said the Reverend.