Asian American lawmakers to press Obama on diversity in administration

Asian American lawmakers say they're disappointed by the lack of Asian American appointees serving in high-level positions in the Obama administration, a message they'll deliver directly to the president Tuesday.

The Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus intends to raise the matter during a meeting with Obama at the White House, during which the group also expects to discuss immigration reform and the implementation of the Affordable Care Act.

The lawmakers' concerns about diversity within the administration were laid out in a letter from Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.), the CAPAC chairwoman, to the president last month.

Though Obama appointed three Asian American Cabinet secretaries in his first term, just one remains: Eric Shinseki, who heads the Department of Veterans Affairs. Chu noted that none of the undersecretaries or deputy secretaries — the second- and third-ranking positions in most agencies — is of Asian or Pacific island descent.

Asian Americans "remain disproportionately under-represented in the federal government," Chu wrote in her letter, which included a list of 20 potential candidates.

Asian Americans represent less than 6 percent of the population, but they are the fastest-growing minority group. Seventy-three percent of Asian voters supported Obama's reelection.

Advocates said the president has a good record in appointing more Asian American judges to federal courts. But they fretted that the White House lost a key voice when Christopher Lu, a former Harvard Law School classmate of Obama's, stepped down from his role as a Cabinet secretary at the start of the second term.

In a meeting with Obama and several senior aides in May, Asian community leaders raised the matter of appointments.

"We think at this point, as he begins to fill out the rest of the administration for the second term, we want to make sure they're at looking people in our communities to fill positions that exist," said Deepa Iyer, executive director of South Asian Americans Leading Together, who attended the meeting in May.

Obama has filled his Cabinet jobs and most of the other highest-level positions, except the Small Business Administrator, but CAPAC members and the community group advocates said they will press the White House to consider Asian American candidates for openings that remain in the next tiers within the agencies.

Among the list of candidates recommended to the president and others who have served in senior positions were Lu; Rhea Suh, an assistant secretary at the Department of the Interior; Ivan Fong, former general counsel at the Department of Homeland Security; Harold Koh, a former legal adviser at the State Department; his brother Howard Koh, an assistant secretary at Health and Human Services; Ruchi Bhowmik, former White House deputy Cabinet secretary; Theo Chuang, deputy general counsel at Homeland Security; Preeta Bansal, former general counsel at the Office of Management and Budget; and Malcolm Lee, former director of the Office of Policy and Strategy at the Commerce Department.

Obama's meeting with CAPAC comes after he met recently with the Congressional Black Caucus and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.

(An earlier version of this blog post misspelled the name of Rhea Suh, assistant secretary at the Department of the Interior. It has been updated.)

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