Thirty-two years ago, when Ronald Reagan’s first-term team was coming together, the Cabinet included one woman, U.N. Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick, and one African American, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Samuel Pierce.
But the number of women and minorities increased later in Reagan’s term, and he named the first Hispanic Cabinet member.
Quick Loop Quiz! Who was that person?
Ah, you guessed it: Education Secretary Lauro Cavazos.
Cabinet diversity increased substantially in the Bill Clinton administration as the 42nd president worked to fulfill his pledge to have a Cabinet that “looks like America.” Clinton was first to name women secretary of state and attorney general. In his initial Cabinet, he had five African Americans, five women and two Hispanics.
Obama appointed more women (seven) and more Asian Americans (three), putting together the most diverse Cabinet ever in his first term.
The reason for the criticism may be that now, with one vacancy left, Obama’s Cabinet has fewer African Americans and Latinos than Clinton had in his first term 20 years ago, and only one Asian American.
Well, there may be some openings before the term ends.
‘Few consolation prizes’
With only one position still open, chief of the Small Business Administration, the Cabinet is still a straights-only group.
“There’s a tremendous sense of disappointment,” says Fred Sainz, the HRC’s vice president for communications and marketing. “We are part of every population. Gays and lesbians have earned a right to be represented in the president’s Cabinet, and its something that we’ll continue to push for.”
There’s a reason for the letdown. Not that Cabinet appointments are quid pro quo, but gays did make up a large number of Obama’s top fundraisers, and gay voters were solidly in his corner. And an openly gay Cabinet member would be a historic first.
We hear that at least one gay candidate — John Berry, former head of the Office of Personnel Management — was in the second-term mix. But other considerations — perhaps including the damaging perception that the White House could have a “woman problem” — led Obama to name others.
The HRC may still get another item on its wish list, a top-tier ambassadorship (we’ve reported that Berry is bound for Australia), but such an announcement has yet to be made. And there are plenty of undersecretary slots and the like that could be filled by LGBT appointees. But that’s not the brass ring. “There are few consolation prizes,” Sainz says. “This is a key priority.”
It’s clear Obama still has strong LGBT support, but the plaudits he’s used to from that community have given way to a complaint.
“It’s incumbent on us to let him know that we do consider this a failure,” Sainz said, noting that Obama has asked allies and supporters to let him know when he’s falling short.