‘So far it’s not good’: Rep. Clyburn dismayed Biden hasn’t made more black appointments
Rep. James Clyburn (D-SC), the House majority whip and a close Biden ally, is taking issue with presumptive President-elect Joe Biden over administration appointments, saying he is falling short when it comes to naming Black figures to top positions. Democrats are feuding over the issue as Biden taps Cabinet members and others to come on board as the transition process plays out.
Clyburn is bitterly disappointed that African Americans have not featured more prominently among the early picks to fill out senior administration posts next year. Black voters were a crucial voting bloc that got Biden elected to the presidency and they feel that he owes them for that.
In an interview with Juan Williams, Clyburn stated that he was pleased with Biden’s choice of Linda Thomas-Greenfield, a Black veteran of the diplomatic corps, to serve as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. But he pointed out that she is so far alone among Black women tapped for cabinet seats and other top slots.
“From all I hear, Black people have been given fair consideration,” Clyburn told Williams. “But there is only one Black woman so far.”
“I want to see where the process leads to, what it produces,” he stated. “But so far it’s not good.”
Clyburn has served 14 terms and is the most senior Black lawmaker on Capitol Hill. He is the third-ranking House Democrat, a veteran of the civil rights movement, and the most powerful African American in Congress. He also rescued Biden for his state when Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) was nipping at his heels.
Biden is charging ahead toward his scheduled inauguration on Jan. 20. He has just begun naming his choices for Cabinet positions and other senior positions in his White House next year.
To head the Department of Homeland Security, Biden has chosen Alejandro Mayorkas, a Cuban American and the first Hispanic to fill that role.
Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-LA), former head of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) and a close friend of Clyburn, was also tapped as director of the White House Office of Public Engagement, where he’ll serve as a senior adviser to Biden and act as a liaison between the West Wing and Congress. He has extensive ties to lawmakers in both parties.
Clyburn has other minority names in mind and will push those on Biden as he fills out his Cabinet in the coming days and weeks.
For agriculture secretary, Clyburn is naming Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH) as a potential candidate. She is a former CBC chair and a fierce advocate for food stamps and other low-income nutrition programs that fall under the department’s jurisdiction. Although Fudge represents a relatively urban district in and around Cleveland, Clyburn suggested that’s an asset for the position. Clyburn has also discussed the matter with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
“Eighty percent of Agriculture Department’s work has nothing to do with farming,” he told Williams. “It is food stamps, nutrition, building schools in rural areas, making sure people have broadband … [and] tele-health programs.
“People ask why Democrats do not do well in rural communities, and this is one of the reasons.”
“I feel very strongly,” Clyburn said. “It’s time for Democrats to treat the Department of Agriculture as the kind of department it purports to be.”
“I’m sick and tired of people saying that rural America is only Nebraska and Iowa,” Clyburn told the media.
“We — our forebears — were brought here to develop rural America, the plantations,” said Clyburn.
Heidi Heitkamp, a former North Dakota senator, and Tom Vilsack, the former Iowa governor who served as agriculture secretary for President Barack Obama are also being considered for the job.
Food politics on Thanksgiving :
Biden owes his presidency to Clyburn, and Clyburn is going all in for Fudge. Publicly. It would be a huge slap if he picked Heitkamp at this point. https://t.co/nhjG503XLS
— Ady Barkan (@AdyBarkan) November 27, 2020
Clyburn is also pushing for Jaime Harrison, a Black lobbyist-turned-Senate candidate in South Carolina, to lead the Democratic National Committee (DNC). Although Harrison was defeated handily by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R), he rose to national prominence for hauling in more than $100 million in the race, shattering fundraising records for a single Senate cycle along the way. Clyburn considers him a “proven talent” for fundraising and ideal to lead the DNC.
“We can’t leave our young talent behind on the battlefield,” Clyburn stated.
Clyburn is also promoting Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown to lead the Department of Housing and Urban Development while promoting California Attorney General Xavier Becerra to assume the same spot at the federal level.
Becerra is a former House veteran who had chaired both the Hispanic Caucus and the full Democratic Caucus before leaving Congress after the 2016 cycle. Clyburn said he’s a “big fan” of elevating his former colleague to replace outgoing Attorney General William Barr.
The Biden-Harris transition team defended their push for diversity, noting that 46 percent of all staff are people of color and 52 percent are women.
They also stated that Biden has already chosen the nation’s first Black woman to join him at the top of the ticket, and the list of appointees has only begun to be finalized.
“He has only announced a few White House staff and cabinet nominees to this point, and his success in finding diverse voices to develop and implement his policy vision to tackle our nation’s toughest challenges will be clear when our full slate of appointees and nominees is complete,” an official said in an email.