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Doug Jones faces pressure to hire minorities for his Senate staff

Sen.-elect Doug Jones (D) says he is “absolutely committed to having a diverse staff including in top posts in my Senate office.” (John Bazemore/AP)

Alabama Sen.-elect Doug Jones is facing pressure to hire minorities for his Senate staff from civil rights groups concerned about a persistent lack of diversity on congressional office payrolls.

Seventeen organizations representing Asians, blacks and Latinos, including the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, NAACP, National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, and the National Urban League, are also asking Jones to ensure that at least one of his senior staffers — his chief of staff, legislative director or communications director — is a minority.

“As a new Member of the U.S. Senate, you have an opportunity to show your constituents that not only do their voices matter, but that their experiences and skills are vital to the work that you do to represent them,” the groups wrote in a letter sent to Jones on Tuesday. “Ensuring racial diversity among your staff would enhance the deliberation, innovation, legitimacy, and outcomes of your office and of the Senate as a whole. Hiring at least one person of color to your senior staff in Washington would speak loudly, and we ask that you do so among the qualified applicants that you will receive.”

In a statement, Jones said he is “absolutely committed to having a diverse staff including in top posts in my Senate office. I plan to hire a diverse staff that reflects the people of Alabama.”

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The letter sent Tuesday notes that Democratic senators have been asked to adopt the “Rooney Rule” — a hiring practice first adopted by the NFL that requires teams to interview at least one minority candidate for head coaching positions and other senior team jobs. In the Senate, Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) has urged members of his caucus to ensure that at least one minority candidate is interviewed for each new position.

Schumer’s calls for changes in hiring practices came under significant pressure from congressional staffing groups and civil rights organizations, who called out Democrats for failing to hire or promote Asian, black and Latino staffers while two Republican senators have black chiefs of staff.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) later asked members of her caucus to adopt the same rule.

A first-of-its-kind report on diversity in some congressional offices earlier this year authored by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies found that people working for Democratic senators are overwhelmingly white and mostly female.

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The current Congress is the most diverse in history, with more minority lawmakers than ever before and a record 21 women in the Senate — a figure set to grow to 22 once Minnesota Lt. Gov. Tina Smith replaces outgoing Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) next month.

Thirty-two percent of staffers in Senate Democratic offices are “non-Caucasian,” defined as African American, Asian/Pacific Islander, Latino, Native American or Middle Eastern/North African, according to the report. Fifty-four percent of staffers are women; 46 percent are men.

Similar data does not exist for GOP congressional offices, which are widely presumed by civil rights and minority staff groups to be overwhelmingly white. But Republican leaders have a handful of minorities serving in top positions. Jonathan Burks, chief of staff to House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.), is the first black man to hold the job. Two Republican senators — Jerry Moran (Kan.) and Tim Scott (S.C.) — have chiefs of staff who are black. No Democratic senator has a chief of staff who is black, but two Hispanic women hold the job for two Democratic senators.

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Jones may face extra pressure to ensure his staff includes minorities because he would not have won the race without the historic turnout of the state’s black voters. African Americans made up about 3 in 10 Alabama voters in the election, according to preliminary exit polls, a margin slightly higher than the 28 percent black turnout in the 2012 presidential election and 29 percent in 2008 — when Barack Obama was on the ballot.

Residents of mostly black Selma — site of the 1965 “Bloody Sunday” march — helped Jones win critical Dallas County. African Americans make up 70 percent of the population in the county, and nearly 75 percent of the vote went to Jones.

The full letter sent to Jones is embedded below: