Civil rights groups meet with president-elect, urging him to appoint Blacks to high level positions

President-elect Joe Biden met with a string of civil rights groups that are seeking to have Blacks appointed to top positions in the administration.
Photo special to the Outlook

By JayJuan 

and Hamil Harris

A month after the 2020 presidential election, President-elect Joe Biden has begun to announce some of his appointments for potential cabinet and transition team positions.

However, his early selections to the Biden team have prompted some criticism. Rep. James E. Clyburn (D-S.C.), who is often credited with reviving Biden’s candidacy after endorsing him in the Democratic primary in South Carolina, is among the most notable to express concerns about Biden’s initial appointments.

“I want to see where the process leads to, what it produces,” Clyburn told Juan Williams, a columnist for The Hill newspaper, in regard to the lack of diversity in his selections currently. “But so far it’s not good.”

These expressions from Clyburn and others, like NAACP President Derrick Johnson, indicated widespread concern in the civil rights community. Johnson had said on CNN that he was confused as to why Biden “has failed to confirm a meeting with the civil rights groups nearly a month after Election Day”.

Due to the criticism about his current team picks, Johnson and representatives of a string of other civil rights groups met with Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris last Tuesday.

On the day before that meeting took place, the Biden administration announced that he has selected retired Army Gen. Lloyd Austin, the former commander of US Central Command, to be his secretary of defense. If confirmed by the Senate, Austin would be the first Black man to become secretary of defense. His other picks of African-Americans include Rep. Marcia Fudge as secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD); Linda Thomas-Greenfield, ambassador to the United Nations, and Cecilia Rouse as chair of the Council of Economic Advisers.

But civil rights leaders, apparently pushing for secretary and director level positions, say Biden’s initial appointments and nominations are not enough. They push for appointments to additional key positions such as attorney general.

Rev. Al Sharpton, president of the National Action Network, said a Black attorney general is one of his requests given the effort by President Donald Trump and Attorney General Bill Barr to gut voting protections and Civil Rights. This has also been an explosive year for national protests against police shootings of Black people.

“We need him to have an Attorney General that will immediately restore those consent decrees and immediately deal with the Voting Rights Act,” Sharpton said in a press briefing by the civil rights leaders following the meeting with Biden and Harris. “You can’t mourn John Lewis on one hand and not move to protect what he was fighting for and what he shed blood for on the Edmund Pettus Bridge.”

An official with the Biden-Harris transition, speaking to The Hill, defended the team’s push for diversity, noting that 46 percent of all campaign staff was people of color and 52 percent were women. As well, Biden’s team noted that he is still in the early stages of appointments, having only named fewer than a quarter of the federal positions he plans to highlight.

Both Biden and Harris told CNN’s Jake Tapper in a televised interview that they are simply “not finished yet” as Biden repeated his promise to appoint an administration with record level diversity that “looks like America.”

After spending nearly two hours with Biden and Harris, the civil rights leaders said in a virtual press briefing that a new day is breaking in terms of African-Americans being in the White House after four hard years of Donald Trump. But they are taking a wait and see attitude.

“Today the seven of us spent approximately one hour and 45 minutes with President-elect Biden, Vice-President-Elect Harris and Assistant to the President Cedric Richmond, discussing a range of very important issues relative to the transition of the future Biden administration and the challenges that this nation faces,” said Marc Morial, president/CEO of the National Urban League, who led the briefing after the meeting.

“We talked extensively about the need for there to be a diverse cabinet, subcabinet and Presidential appointments,” Morial said. “The president-elect said that he intends to make history when it comes to the appointment of African-Americans and Hispanics to his cabinet and his subcabinet…and while we will not judge the ultimate outcome, to me it was refreshing to hear.”

NAACP President Derrick Johnson; Sharpton; Sherrilyn Ifill president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law; Vanita Gupta, president of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights; and Melanie Campbell, president/CEO of the National Coalition for Black Civic Participation, were also at the meeting.

“There has been diversity with President-elect Biden’s initial appointments but before Rep Marcia Fudge was appointed to Secretary of Housing and Urban Development today there had not been any woman of color appointed to a statuary cabinet post,” said Campbell, also convener of the Black Women’s Roundtable.

Campbell added that one of her top concerns is how people of color are being treated in the COVID-19 Pandemic.

“They need to look at the issue of implicit bias in terms of how they are screening people during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Campbell said. “I shared my own story with the President-Elect Biden of being a COVID-19 survivor and how after sent home with Tylenol only to be back in the hospital the next day in ICU.”

Johnson said, “I am encouraged that this will be an ongoing dialogue and that racial equity will be a priority. We dedicated people who report directly to the President just like in cooperate America…It is important for our democracy to work for everyone and not just certain people.”

Ifill said that she emphasized to the President-Elect about having a “Civil Rights agenda,” that would focus on voting and policing and I also raised the issue of what is happening in our prisons today in terms of COVID. We need a strong Attorney General who has a demonstrated record of criminal justice reform as well as Civil Rights.”

In terms of the federal bench, not just at the Supreme Court, “but to think that the reforms that are needed through-out the federal judicial system. I think the President-Elect and the Vice-President-Elect clearly listened,” Ifill said.

Clarke concluded, “Under the Trump administration Black people have been silenced, marginalized and ignored. This meeting was intended to make clear that racial justice must be at the center of the Biden-Harris administration’s approach to confronting the profound problems that we face in the nation. This meeting was intended to ensure that Black people will be listened to and this administration will respect our dignity and humanity.”

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