‘RAINBOW WAVE’ PUSHES FOR MORE: President-elect Joe Biden has pledged the “most diverse” Cabinet in U.S. history. But the congressional LGBTQ+ Equality Caucus released a letter last night expressing concern that LGBTQ+ representation is insufficient at the highest levels of American government.
- “While your administration is on track to be the most diverse in American history, we ask that you continue your commitment to diversity by ensuring LGBTQ+ professionals are included in your Cabinet and throughout your administration. The fact is that the LGBTQ+ community remains underrepresented at the highest levels of our government,” said a letter addressed to Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala D. Harris from the nine caucus co-chairs obtained by Power Up.
The caucus, however, has notched some wins already, as the transition team has appointed several LGBTQ+ nominees to high-profile roles in the Biden-Harris administration, including in the communications shop and as White House social secretary.
But the community would like to see nominations to more prominent roles and a Cabinet post at a time when it “still faces significant challenges even under a Democratic administration,” according to the signatories of the letter.
- “The groundbreaking Obergefell decision is now at risk of being overturned with Amy Coney Barrett on the Supreme Court. That is why it is critical that LGBTQ+ Americans are appointed to the Cabinet, senior staff positions, and the judiciary,” they write, referring to the right for same-sex couples to marry.
The Congressional LGBTQ+ Equality Caucus is the latest group to escalate pressure on Biden to appoint diverse nominees to the remaining Cabinet positions.
Representatives from seven of the country's leading civil rights organizations last week criticized Biden for the lack of Black appointments in top positions, our colleagues Annie Linskey and Matt Viser reported. And members of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus met with Biden's transition team on Monday to express concern about the lack of Asian American representation in top-tier slots, according to our colleague Amy B Wang.
- Biden addressed criticisms in an interview with CNN's Jake Tapper last week: “My job is to keep my commitment to make the decisions,” Biden said. “And when it's all over people will take a look and say, I promise you, you'll see the most diverse Cabinet representative of all folks, Asian Americans, African Americans, Latinos, LGBTQ, across the board.”
- On Monday, Politico's Lara Seligman, Tyler Pager, Connor O'Brien, and Natasha Bertrand scooped that Biden made history with his pick for secretary of defense: he “selected Retired Gen. Lloyd Austin to serve as secretary of defense, according to three people with knowledge of the decision. If confirmed, Austin would be the first Black person to lead the Pentagon.”
- Biden's team weighs in: “President-elect Biden is working to build an administration that looks like America, starting with the first woman of South Asian descent and first Black woman to be Vice President-elect, as well as a slate of historic nominees and appointees, to-date,” Jamal Brown, a spokesperson for the Biden Transition, said in a statement to Power Up. “Over the coming weeks, our team will continue to build upon President-elect Biden's legacy of advancing LGBTQ+ equality by shaping a government that reflects the breadth and diversity of our nation.”
- Biden's transition team has been applauded for assembling a majority-female staff, with 40 percent of the total transition workforce comprising people of color, NBC News's Ali Vitali reported last month.
- Coming soon: Biden's team said he'll “announce additional members of his cabinet before Christmas, including his nominee for Secretary of Defense and members of his economic and domestic cabinet before the end of this week.”
Signatories of the LGBTQ + letter expressed confidence Biden will “will work quickly to reverse many of the anti-LGBTQ+ policies put in place by the Trump administration,” but they argue that Cabinet-level representation is essential to demonstrating the administration's “commitment to full LGBTQ+ equality.”
- “It cannot be understated how important it is to our community, especially for young LGBTQ+ Americans to have role models to look up to as they struggle for acceptance in their families, communities, and workplaces,” per the letter.
In an interview with the Philadelphia Gay News in October, Biden vowed to pass the Equality Act, which would guarantee LGBTQ protections under civil rights laws, in the first 100 days. He campaigned on an ambitious platform pledging to end the transgender military ban and reinstate Obama-era employment discrimination protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer individuals.
So far, there have been some notable LGBTQ appointees tapped to key roles in the Biden-Harris White House: Karine Jean-Pierre, Pili Tobar, Carlos Elizondo, and Anthony Bernal are among those who are openly out and will be serving in the administration.
- Raffi Freedman-Gurspan, the first openly transgender person to work in the White House during the Obama administration, told NBC News's Dan Avery last week she anticipates a queer candidate will be appointed to a senior leadership role: “Beyond an out Cabinet member, Freedman-Gurspan predicts a nonbinary person will be appointed at some level. ‘I know there are some interviewing,’ she said.”
The caucus plans on recommending “experienced LGBTQ+ professionals to your transition team for positions at every level” of the administration in the coming days.
Signatories include the nine co-chairs of the Equality Caucus: Reps. David N. Cicilline (D-R.I.), Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.), Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), Mark Takano (D-Calif.), Angie Craig (D-Minn.), Sharice Davids (D-Kan.), and Chris Pappas (D-N.H.), along with Reps.-elect Ritchie Torres (D-N.Y.) and Mondaire Jones (D-N.Y.). Torres and Jones made history in November, becoming the first openly gay Black men elected to Congress:
- “Torres became the first openly gay elected official from the Bronx when he was elected to the New York City Council seven years ago at age 25. In June’s Congressional primary, he defeated Rubén Diaz Sr., a fellow member of the New York City Council who had a long history of anti-LGBTQ remarks,” according to BuzzFeed News's Addy Baird.
- “There are currently nine openly LGBTQ members of Congress, including Rep. Mark Takano, who became the first openly gay person of color in Congress when he was elected in 2012, and Rep. Sharice Davids, elected in 2018, who is the first openly gay woman of color in Congress,” per Baird.
- “The victories of Mr. Jones and Mr. Torres also mean that by one measure, gay Black Americans may finally have representation in Congress that mirrors their representation in the broader population,” the New York Times's Dana Rubinstein wrote in November.
Not only do LGBTQ Americans represent 4.5 percent of the population, but the Equality Caucus notes its key role in Democratic politics in recent years as the Trump administration has gradually reversed LGBT rights.
- “During the 2018 midterms, LGBTQ+ voters gave us the support we needed to put a check on Donald Trump by giving Democrats a majority in the U.S. House. In that election, more than four out of every five LGBTQ+ people voted for the Democrat running in their district. We saw the highest number of LGBTQ+ candidates elected on record — more than 150 — making up an unprecedented Rainbow Wave.”
- “Once again, LGBTQ+ voters were critical in your campaign for the White House this year. On Super Tuesday, almost one out of every 10 voters were LGBTQ+. Then again in November, nearly three out of every four registered LGBTQ+ voters supported your candidacy,” they write.
Andrew Flores, Gabriele Magni and Andrew Reynolds write in The Washington Post that “had LGBT voters stayed home, Trump might well have won the 2020 presidential election.”
- “Along with several other minority groups, LGBT voters may have helped tilt some swing states for Biden. In key states like Arizona, Georgia, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, most LGBT voters went for Biden, while a majority of non-LGBT voters favored Trump,” according to Andrew, Gabriele, and Andrew.
- Looking ahead: “When races are close, LGBT Americans, who tend to vote in high numbers and have been reliable Democratic supporters, can make the difference in favor of Democratic candidates. With the number of people openly identified as LGBTQ steadily growing, LGBT voters may well help determine future elections. That includes Georgia’s January Senate runoff elections as well as future local, state and federal elections.”
At the Pentagon
BIDEN PICKS A SECDEF: “The president-elect plans to tap retired Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III to be secretary of defense. If confirmed, Austin would be the first Black Pentagon chief,” Seung Min Kim, Annie Linskey, Dan Lamothe and John Hudson report. (Politico broke the story.)
Like former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, Austin would need a waiver: “That means his selection will prompt a congressional debate over whether enough lawmakers would support a waiver from a law that mandates any service member must be out of uniform for at least seven years before being eligible to serve as defense secretary. The law is meant to ensure civilian control of the military,” our colleagues write.
- From the clip file: “Waiving the law should happen no more than once in a generation,” Sen. Jack Reed (R.I.), the top Democrat on the Armed Services Committee, said in 2017. “Therefore, I will not support a waiver for future nominees, nor will I support any effort to water down or repeal the statute in the future.”
- Jim Golby, a retired Army officer who studies civil-military relations, made a similar point in a Times op-ed.
Austin's bio: “Austin, 67, was for years a formidable figure at the Pentagon, and is the only African-American to have headed U.S. Central Command, the military’s marquee combat command, with responsibility for Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Syria — most of the places where the United States is at war,” Times's Helene Cooper, Jonathan Martin and Eric Schmitt report.
- He's not regarded as a very political figure: “He has sometimes stumbled in congressional hearings, including a session in 2015 when he acknowledged, under testy questioning, that the Defense Department’s $500 million program to raise an army of Syrian fighters had gone nowhere. He was selected over another front-runner, Michèle A. Flournoy, who had served in senior Pentagon policy jobs and mentored a generation of women in national security who had pushed for her appointment as the first female defense secretary.”
PFIZER SAYS QUICK RESTOCK OF SHOTS IS UNLIKELY: “Pfizer has told the Trump administration it cannot provide substantial additional doses of its coronavirus vaccine until late June or July because other countries have rushed to buy up most of its supply," Laurie McGinley, Yasmeen Abutaleb and Carolyn Y. Johnson report.
- What it means: “The U.S. government may not be able to ramp up as rapidly as it had expected from the 100 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine that it purchased earlier this year, raising questions about whether it can keep to its aggressive schedule to vaccinate most Americans by late spring or early summer.”
How this happened: “Last summer, Pfizer officials had urged Operation Warp Speed to purchase 200 million doses, or enough of the two-shot regimen for 100 million people … But the Warp Speed officials declined, opting instead for 100 million doses, they said,” our colleagues write.
- “It was only last weekend, with a Food and Drug Administration clearance expected any day, that federal officials reached back out to the company asking to buy another 100 million doses. By then, Pfizer said it had committed the supply elsewhere and suggested elevating the conversation to ‘a high level discussion.’"
On the Hill
KICKING THE CAN FOR A WEEK: “Congress will vote this week on a one-week stopgap measure to fund the federal government in order to give negotiators more time to reach agreement on government appropriations and emergency stimulus legislation for the ailing American economy,” Mike DeBonis, Jeff Stein and Seung Min Kim report.
- Where funding talks stand: “The most divisive issues in government spending talks concern funding for Trump’s border wall with Mexico and detention facilities run by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, according to aides briefed on the talks. Democratic appropriators have said they are awaiting responses on a range of questions from their Republican counterparts.”
White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said Trump would “likely” support the $908 billion plan:
The hope has been that funding and stimulus money would be combined in one giant bill: “The bipartisan stimulus negotiators … remain at least a day away from releasing legislative language that can be signed into law and are in particular torn over a liability shield for coronavirus-related lawsuits and how to apportion funding for state and local governments — two provisions that have divided the parties for months,” our colleagues write.
- Trouble ahead?: Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), a possible 2024 hopeful, is urging Trump to veto any deal that doesn't include another round of $1,200 stimulus checks for Americans, per Politico. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has also vowed to oppose legislation without the checks, which are reportedly being left out for now due to their cost as lawmakers try to keep the top line below $1 trillion.
At the White House
TRUMP WON'T GIVE UP : “Trump called the speaker of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives twice during the past week to make an extraordinary request for help reversing his loss in the state, reflecting a broadening pressure campaign by the president and his allies to try to subvert the 2020 election result,” Amy Gardner, Josh Dawsey and Rachael Bade scooped.
- This is now the third state where Trump has gone to such lengths: “He previously reached out to Republicans in Michigan, and on Saturday he pressured Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) in a call to try to replace that state’s electors.”
The desperate moves comes as Trump and his allies continue to lose in court: “The president’s outreach to Pennsylvania’s Republican House leader came after his campaign and its allies decisively lost numerous legal challenges in the state in both state and federal court. Trump has continued to press his baseless claims of widespread voting irregularities both publicly and privately,” our colleagues write.
- If you're old enough to remember …: The abrupt switch in tactics has left some Trump team members contradicting the positions they held just weeks ago.
BEHIND RECORD NUMBER OF GOP WOMEN: “Seventeen newly elected Republican women will give the party a record number of female lawmakers in Congress, the results of a successful strategy of recruiting and supporting women running for office. Of the 13 Democratic incumbents who lost their seats on election night, Republican women were responsible for defeating 10,” Rachael Bade reports.
- Republicans will welcome their most ethnically and gender diverse class in their history: “While these women see their gender as an added benefit for party diversity — and not as the core of their brand — the recruitment effort behind their success nonetheless reflects a major shift: Republicans have long claimed to reject ‘identity politics,’ while watching their appeal shrink largely to White men. Democrats, on the other hand, promote women and minorities regularly, as their numbers have grown and women such as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Vice President-elect [Harris] shatter glass ceilings.”
- More: “Now, as a result of their extraordinary new support network, Republicans can point to their own gains, including at least 28 voting women in the House and nine female senators next year. GOP women lead in two House races in Iowa and New York that Democratic candidates are contesting. Others, such as former U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley and South Dakota Gov. Kristi L. Noem, are seen as potential future presidential candidates.”
- New squad: :Several are making plans to directly challenge the liberal ‘Squad’ led by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) by tapping into their own personal stories of families who fled communism and socialism."
Top lawmakers made a commitment after 2018 to do more to support female candidates: “House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Rep. Elise Stefanik (N.Y.) and the new campaign committee recruitment chair, Rep. Susan Brooks (R-Ind.), began reaching out and encouraging women to run, pledging to support them with advice, endorsements and finances if they would take the plunge,” our colleague writes.
In the media
REMEMBERING CHUCK YEAGER: “Charles E. “Chuck” Yeager, a military test pilot who was the first person to fly faster than the speed of sound and live to tell about it, died Dec. 7. He was 97,” Becky Krystal writes in The Post's obit.
- “For his prowess in flight, Gen. Yeager became one of the great American folk heroes of the 1940s and 1950s. A self-described West Virginia hillbilly with a high school education, he said he came ‘from so far up the holler, they had to pipe daylight to me.’ He became one of the greatest aviators of his generation, combining abundant confidence with an innate understanding of engineering mechanics — what an airplane could do under any form of stress.”