The Campaign Against Biden’s Cabinet Picks of Color Is Depressingly Familiar

The opposition to the nominations of Deb Haaland and Xavier Becerra follows a familiar trend on the right

Rep. Debra Haaland testifies during her confirmation hearing. Photo: Leigh Vogel/Pool/Getty Images

This week, as the U.S. Senate began the nomination hearings for President Biden’s Cabinet nominees, I saw a familiar pattern develop. Regardless of their actual record and without even having a chance to discuss it, nominees of color, such as Deb Haaland, Neera Tanden, and Xavier Becerra, have been painted as “famously partisan” people with “radical” ideas.

This is not the first time I’ve noticed such a trend. At the height of the 2020 election, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s name was frequently invoked as a foe in ads for Republican candidates in races across the country, an obvious boogeywoman the GOP could point to in order to scare its constituents into voting red. The reason AOC was targeted, other than her high name recognition, was clear to those who pay close attention to electoral politics.

“It is easier strategically to cue conceptions of extremism with those who bring with them identities that don’t represent what has been the norm in terms of political power,” Kelly Dittmar, director of research and a scholar at the Center for American Women and Politics, told me at the time. Haaland, Tanden, and Becerra all would make history if confirmed to their posts. Haaland would be the first Native American to become interior secretary, Tanden would be the first Indian American person to lead the Office of Management and Budget, and Becerra would be the first Latino secretary of Health and Human Services.

I can’t help but think that people of color are once again being held to impossibly high standards by opportunistic partisans.

It’s safe to say that people with their heritage have not been widely represented in government, and this has allowed Republicans, aided to an extent by Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin, to paint each nominee as a rabble-rouser with a troubling, radical record.

Manchin’s current position is not very surprising. The West Virginia senator supported more of President Trump’s nominees than any other member of the Democratic caucus, including voting to confirm Jeff Sessions as attorney general — a man so racist that the Senate refused to confirm him to a federal judgeship in the 1980s — and U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who was accused of sexual assault. Still, Manchin said at the start of the week that he was undecided on Haaland, while Republicans claimed her “ideology” would perpetuate “divisiveness.” About Tanden, Manchin said he was concerned about her tweets, even though he voted to confirm Richard Grenell to an ambassadorship post despite a history of online trolling that included mocking women’s appearances. Republicans’ “concerns” around Becerra seem to center around the fact he is not a physician. But, of course, neither was Alex Azar, Trump’s health secretary.

As with anyone in public service, the qualifications and history of Biden’s nominees should be thoroughly examined. Tanden’s credentials in particular have raised more than a few eyebrows. Still, given the current rhetoric around these particular nominees, I can’t help but think that people of color are once again being held to impossibly high standards by opportunistic partisans, especially when compared to the slew of the previous administration’s nominees who just sailed through the confirmation process despite real material concerns about their track records. It’s impossible to ignore the undercurrent of bigotry in how nominees of color have been treated.

Award-winning journalist covering politics, gender, race, activism, and more. Puertorriqueña.

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