Illinois Senator Tammy Duckworth threatened to block President Joe Biden’s cabinet nominees Tuesday. Duckworth told national news media outlets Tuesday she would vote against confirming any further nominees to the president’s cabinet unless he appoints more Asian Americans or Pacific Islanders to his Cabinet.
Duckworth, however, backed off the threat late Wednesday after ongoing talks with the White House over diversity and representation in the nation’s Executive Branch. Every presidential Cabinet since 2000 has included an Asian American at the secretary level until now, despite Biden having one of the most diverse cabinet’s in the nation’s history.
Duckworth had told reporters that when she brought up this issue in the past — and most recently Monday night — White House officials had responded by pointing to Kamala Harris’ role as vice president, which is part of the Cabinet. Harris is the first African American and South Asian American woman to be elected vice president. Duckworth, who was born in Thailand, said the notion the Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders community doesn’t “need anybody else is insulting.” She said other minority caucuses have never been treated that way. Duckworth received support from fellow Democrat Hawaiian Senator Mazie Hirono on Tuesday. The two are the only senators of Asian descent.
Duckworth’s remarks came only weeks after a backlash over past inflammatory tweets prompted Neera Tanden to withdraw herself from consideration to lead Biden’s Office of Management and Budget. As OMB director, Tanden would have become the first woman of color and first South Asian person to lead the office. The Senate confirmed Katherine Tai last week as the top U.S. trade representative. She will be the first Asian American person and first woman of color to hold the position, which is part of Biden’s Cabinet, but does not have a secretary title.
Duckworth’s opposition likely could have swayed a non-confirmation of any further nominees as the Senate is evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans at 50 seats each.