Senator Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill.
Tom Williams | CQ appeal | Getty Images
The White House said it would appoint a “high-level” liaison officer for Asia Pacific islanders, an official told NBC News on Wednesday.
The announcement came after two Democratic senators, Tammy Duckworth of Illinois and Hawaiian Mazie Hirono, vowed to vote against President Joe Biden’s candidates in protest at the lack of AAPI representation in his administration.
Duckworth and Hirono later went back on the threats, saying they had received new assurances from the White House.
The dispute over AAPI’s representation in government stems from Biden’s attempt to rally the American people against an increase in violence and discrimination against Asian Americans over the past year amid the coronavirus pandemic.
“The president has made it clear that his administration will reflect the diversity of the country. That was and is our goal,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement.
“The White House will add a high-level liaison between Asia Pacific islanders that will ensure that the community’s voice is further represented and heard,” said Psaki.
Senator Mazie Hirono attends a Senate Judicial Committee hearing for Christine Blasey Ford to testify on allegations of sexual assault against Supreme Court candidate Brett M. Kavanaugh on Capitol Hill in Washington, United States, on September 27, 2018 .
Erin Schaff | Reuters
A day earlier, Duckworth criticized the government for not appointing “a single AAPI” official to a cabinet position.
“That’s not acceptable. I told the White House that,” said Duckworth, the first Thai American to be elected to Congress.
Duckworth said Tuesday that “until they find out,” she would “vote no on anything but the diversity contenders”.
Hirono joined Duckworth’s protest Tuesday evening, telling reporters they are demanding “a pledge from the White House that there will be greater representation of diversity in the cabinet and senior positions of the White House.”
Until then, Hirono said she would join Duckworth in “voting no to non-diversity nominees”.
But Hirono reversed course that night after posting initial reports on the new AAPI liaison role.
“I had a productive conversation with the White House today to clarify my perspective on the importance of diversity in the president’s cabinet,” Hirono tweeted.
“Based on the private conversation we have had, I will continue to vote to endorse the historic and highly qualified candidates that President Biden has appointed to his administration.”
Duckworth backed off her threat too.
The senator “appreciates the assurances made by the Biden administration that it will do much more to improve the voices and prospects of the AAPI at the highest levels of government,” spokesman Ben Garmisa said in a statement.
“Accordingly, it will not stand in the way of President Biden’s qualified candidates – including more AAPI leaders,” the statement said.
Program Notice: CNBC’s “Race & Opportunity in America: The Asian-American Experience” will air on Wednesday, March 31st at 8:00 pm CET.