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Biden Is Under Pressure To Name More People Of Color To Top Posts

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Secretary of health and human services - it is always a central and important job in the federal government, so much more so in a pandemic. President-elect Joe Biden's nominee, if confirmed, will enter this job with a public health crisis raging, and we know who Biden's selecting this morning. We have NPR White House reporter Ayesha Rascoe with us. Good morning, Ayesha.

AYESHA RASCOE, BYLINE: Good morning.

GREENE: So no reason for more suspense - I mean, we're actually reporting on who Biden's pick is already, right?

RASCOE: Yes. So he has formally announced it now. He's chosen California Attorney General Xavier Becerra. Becerra would be the second - or is the second high-profile Latino to be nominated for a Cabinet position. The other other's Alejandro Mayorkas, who's supposed to lead the Department of Homeland Security. The choice of Becerra comes as Biden had been under pressure to name more people of color to top posts. The Congressional Hispanic Caucus has called for more Latino nominees. About half of the Cabinet positions so far - announced so far have gone to people of color, as well as a number of posts have gone to women.

GREENE: Well, and this is a promise that Biden made and actually talked to reporters about on Friday. Let's take a listen.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT-ELECT JOE BIDEN: 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.

GREENE: And, Ayesha, there are groups who are really pushing Biden to keep his word. I know you've been reporting on civil rights groups who are demanding that more African Americans be nominated to influential posts in the administration. The NAACP is meeting with the president-elect on Tuesday. Talk us through this.

RASCOE: So there is a concern that groups like the NAACP have not been consulted enough as Biden has been putting together his Cabinet. You know, I talked to Derrick Johnson, who is the CEO of the NAACP, and he said that the NAACP and other civil rights groups have requested a meeting with Biden a few weeks ago, and they want to make sure that policies backing civil rights are front and center when Biden is making these decisions.

DERRICK JOHNSON: We didn't want to get lost in the mix and be an afterthought. Civil rights should be at the table on the front end.

RASCOE: Johnson said he's not looking for a particular number of Black people to be nominated; he said what's most important is making sure that whoever is nominated is focused on making sure that the interests of African Americans and other people of color are represented.

GREENE: So what are other organizations telling you?

RASCOE: I also talked to Marc Morial, who heads up the National Urban League, and he said that the number of Black people put into these positions is important. Here's more from him.

MARC MORIAL: It is about a significant number of Black people in the Cabinet - let me just be clear. It is about representation at the table.

RASCOE: You know, what both of these leaders made clear is they feel that civil rights - that the civil rights agenda has really been ignored or harmed during the Trump administration and that Biden has a lot of work to do to make up for that.

GREENE: So that is the argument in general. Do they - do these organizations have specific candidates in mind who they're really advocating for?

RASCOE: One name that's come up over and over again is Marcia Fudge, Ohio Congresswoman Marcia Fudge, for secretary of agriculture. Fudge is a Black woman who is a member of the House Agriculture Committee and has been a big advocate for food stamps and other programs for the hungry that are run out of the USDA. There have also been calls for Biden to choose Black candidates for one of the remaining big four Cabinet posts - so either secretary of defense or attorney general. To be clear, there have been some Black people picked for some key positions already, including Linda Thomas-Greenfield for U.N. ambassador and Wally Adeyemo as deputy treasury secretary.

GREENE: I mean, as we said, Biden said he is committed to diversity. So what are Biden and his team saying about this - you know, these concerns and this pressure they're feeling?

RASCOE: The transition team has had contact with these groups, you know, even if it hasn't been at the president-elect's level yet. Jamal Brown, who is a spokesman for the transition, said that Biden has, you know, been working to build an administration that looks like America and to ensure that these organizations, you know, have a seat at the table and are able to, you know, help implement Biden's vision.

GREENE: That is NPR White House reporter Ayesha Rascoe this morning. Ayesha, thanks as always.

RASCOE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.