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The Eight Hour Protest: Dem Senators Back Away from Boycott of White Nominees

White House liaison for Asian-American community placates Duckworth and Hirono

Sens. Mazie Hirono (D., Hawaii) and Tammy Duckworth (D., Ill.) / Getty Images
• March 24, 2021 11:48 am

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Two Democratic senators backed down from their threats to block all future Biden administration non-minority nominees after just eight hours late Tuesday night, saying the White House had satisfied their demands about a lack of Asian-American diversity in President Joe Biden's cabinet.

The reversal came after Sens. Tammy Duckworth (D., Ill.) and Mazie Hirono (D., Hawaii) faced harsh criticism from both the left and the right, and after Biden appeared to push back against their concerns, telling reporters that he had "the most diverse cabinet in history. We have a lot of Asian Americans who are in the cabinet and sub-cabinet levels. Our cabinet is formed."

Duckworth and Hirono threatened to shoot down all non-minority nominees until Biden took steps to put more Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in high level positions on Tuesday afternoon. The senators announced that they would specifically vote against Colin Kahl, the nominee for undersecretary of defense for policy, if his nomination went to the Senate floor—a threat that seemed designed to spur urgency in the White House, ahead of Kahl's confirmation vote in the Senate Armed Services Committee on Wednesday.

But just hours later, late Tuesday night, the senators said they were lifting the boycott due to the White House's "assurances that it will do much more to elevate AAPI voices and perspectives at the highest levels of government," said Duckworth in a statement to NBC News.

These supposed concessions included "appointing an AAPI senior White House official" and other unnamed and unspecified cabinet appointments, according to Duckworth.

Many left-leaning Twitter users panned Duckworth and Hirono for the boycott on Tuesday.

"More AAPI representation is welcomed yes, but blackmail never looks good," wrote one user.

"@SenDuckworth stop being insulted and do your job. We don't have time, we barely hold the Senate for God's sake," wrote another.

Ryan Grim, D.C. bureau chief for the Intercept, saw another motive in Duckworth's short-lived opposition to Kahl's nomination—calling it a "huge favor for Israel."

"Duckworth says she'll block all future Biden nominees until he names a high-ranking AAPI official. That demand just happens to come moments before she does a huge favor for Israel by opposing a lead advocate of the Iran deal under Obama. But he's white, so it's for justice's sake," wrote Grim.

Conservatives also slammed Duckworth and Hirono for threatening to vote down only white candidates, characterizing it as a racist decision.