If it looks to you like President Biden’s nominees who are women, people of color, or especially women of color, are facing more opposition in the Senate, that’s because … President Biden’s nominees who are women, people of color, or especially women of color are facing more opposition in the Senate.
The only nominee who currently looks in danger of being rejected is Neera Tanden, who would be the first woman of color to head the Office of Management and Budget, but who had “mean tweets.” Republicans who defended Donald Trump for four years and confirmed Twitter troll Richard Grenell to be ambassador to Germany—and Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin, who voted to confirm Grenell—are very upset about this, they claim. Generally, when it comes to nominees who aren’t white men, Republicans would like a great deal of credit for allowing the timely confirmation of Defense Sec. Lloyd Austin. However, the numbers tell a different story.
Half of Biden’s Cabinet-level picks are white. Nine have been confirmed: six white, two Black, one Latino. Republicans have also required cloture votes for three nominees of color—so far—including U.N. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, who were confirmed, and Cecelia Rouse to head the Council of Economic Advisers; she has not yet gotten her confirmation vote.
Rep. Deb Haaland, Biden’s nominee for secretary of the interior, will also see her nomination held up by Republicans throwing up every delay they can—though, unlike Tanden, she will get Manchin’s support.
Republicans also have their attack-and-delay sights trained on Vanita Gupta, nominee for associate attorney general, and Kristen Clarke, nominee for assistant attorney general in charge of the civil rights division of the Department of Justice. Gupta has been the target of a major attack ad campaign from outside Republican groups. After his confirmation hearings, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra is expected to be confirmed as health and human services secretary without serious problems, but only after coming under attack from Heritage Action for America.
Here are some defenses Republicans offered The Washington Post for this pattern:
Forty-one Senate Democrats voted against Ben Carson, Trump’s housing and urban development secretary, who is Black, and six voted against Elaine Chao, Trump’s transportation secretary, so … see, Democrats opposed Trump’s nominees of color!
Carson, who was patently unqualified for the job, got yes votes from six Democrats and Sen. Angus King, an independent who caucuses with Democrats, in what The New York Times described at the time as “a rare show of bipartisanship.” And they have got to be kidding me with this whole “six Democrats voted against Elaine Chao” nonsense. That vote, by the way, happened on Jan. 31, 2017, with Democrats rather obviously not having tried to delay the process.
Also, Republicans say, Thomas-Greenfield got Republican support. Yes, she did, after her confirmation was delayed by Sen. Ted Cruz.
And then there’s the good old “they deserve it.” As an unnamed Republican aide told the Post, “It’s kind of ridiculous. Senate Republicans are opposing these people because they are out of the mainstream and it has nothing to do with race.”
Republicans maybe shouldn’t be talking about who’s “out of the mainstream” while they’re opposing a COVID-19 relief package supported by at least two out of three voters. But of course what they mean by “out of the mainstream” does, in fact, have everything to do with race. As former Sens. Mark Udall and Tom Udall wrote in a USA Today op-ed on the campaign against Haaland, “Were either of us the nominee to lead the Interior Department, we doubt that anyone would be threatening to hold up the nomination or wage a scorched earth campaign warning about ‘radical’ ideas.”
Republicans ”know by using buzzwords that they’re able to try to conjure up these tropes about women of color leaders,” Fatima Goss Graves, the president of the National Women’s Law Center, told the Post. “These are code words that are used not only to distract but to conjure up an image in your mind.”
And Republicans are making ample use of them, because Donald Trump was not the only one in his party to rely on race and gender as tools for stoking division.