Pressure mounts on Biden to make diverse picks for top posts

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President-elect Joe Biden speaks about jobs at The Queen theater, Friday, Dec. 4, 2020, in Wilmington, Del. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

WASHINGTON – President-elect Joe Biden is facing increasing pressure to expand the racial and ideological diversity in his choices for Cabinet and other top jobs. A month and a half before he takes office, he's drawing rebukes from activists who fear he'll fall short on promises to build an administration that looks like the country it governs.

Of the nine major picks Biden has made so far, only two — Secretary of State choice Antony Blinken and chief of staff Ron Klain — are white men. That's a historic low that so far outpaces the historically diverse Cabinet that Barack Obama assembled in 2009.

But civil rights leaders are grumbling that none of the “big four” Cabinet positions – the secretaries of state, defense and treasury and the attorney general – has yet gone to a person of color. And Biden is declining to commit to doing so.

“I promise you, it'll be the single most diverse Cabinet based on race, color, based on gender that's ever existed in the United States of America,” the president-elect said instead during a news conference Friday.

That came after Congressional Hispanic Democrats expressed dismay during a call with Klain and other Biden advisers on Thursday about the treatment of New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who reportedly removed her name from consideration to be the new administration's interior secretary. They urged that she remain a candidate to head the more prominent Department of Health and Human Services, but it's not clear she will.

“I do think there needs to be a little more focus on the progressive wing of the party as well as African Americans," Martin Luther King III, the son of the slain civil rights leader, said in a phone interview Friday. “But you can’t assume that that’s not going to be addressed.”

Biden already faces tough Senate fights to get some of his key picks confirmed by Republicans, and discontent among his own supporters over his commitment to diversity could prove especially problematic. He's urging bipartisanship but could find himself in a situation similar to Obama, who took office in 2009 talking of moving past political scuffling but underestimated strong pushback in Congress.

Today’s Senate is more bare-knuckled and hyper-partisan than when Biden was vice president, including GOP senators eyeing their own 2024 White House runs. But initial meetings between nominees and senators seem to be going well.