Al Kamen
Al Kamen
In the Loop

A step back on Cabinet diversity

Important segments of President Obama’s base have been hammering him for not appointing enough Latinos and African Americans — and no gays — to his second-term Cabinet.

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.

Al Kamen

Al Kamen, an award-winning columnist on the national staff of The Washington Post, created the “In the Loop” column in 1993. He began his reporting career at the Rocky Mountain News and joined The Post in 1980. He has covered local and federal courts, the Supreme Court and the State Department. Follow him on Twitter.

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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’

Speaking of more disappointment than cheers, proponents of gay rights at the Human Rights Campaign fell short of their stated goal: at least one gay Cabinet member.

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.

On deck for good things

Major League Baseball has its farm teams. But the best steppingstone in Washington might just be the job of deputy to national security adviser Tom Donilon .

Michael Froman , the deputy national security advisor for international economic affairs, whom Obama nominated last week to be U.S. trade rep, is only the latest of Donilon’s right-hand men to rise to a lofty spot.

Others in the Donilon-Deputy Alumni Club include Denis McDonough , now Obama’s chief of staff, and CIA Director John Brennan , who was deputy national security advisor for homeland security and counterterrorism. (And Donilon himself was a deputy NSA before becoming the head honcho.)

The perch is a good one, observers say, since you have a finger in nearly every foreign policy pie — and because Donilon is thought to do a good job of empowering his people. Perhaps most important, deputy NSAs develop relationships with key players and have the president’s ear, which makes for a good recipe for career advancement.

Assuming the pattern holds, what might we expect for the current No. 2, Tony Blinken ?

Tossing a bone (or two)

Immigration and Customs Enforcement has taken flak of late for freeing a bunch of detainees.

But in one celebrated instance, ICE was able to remove one particularly ferocious creature from our shores. Never mind that the Tyrannosaurus bataar that the U.S. government returned to Mongolia had been dead for some 70 million years.

At a repatriation ceremony Monday, ICE officials gave back the skeleton, which had been looted from the Gobi desert, smuggled to the United States via Britain and sold at auction for more than a million bucks by a self-described “commercial paleontologist” from Florida.

“We cannot allow the greed of a few looters and schemers to trump the cultural interests of an entire nation,” ICE Director John Morton said in a statement.

Tsagaan Puntsag, the chief of office of the president of Mongolia, called the raptor “a hero dinosaur” and welcomed it back to its country of origin. “We are . . . grateful to all the organizations and individuals who helped make it happen,” Puntsag said.

That’s our ICE!

With Emily Heil

The blog: washingtonpost.com/intheloop. Twitter: @InTheLoopWP.

 
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