Senate Confirmed White Nominees More Quickly Than Nominees Of Color This Year

Kristen Clarke, assistant attorney general for the civil rights division, and Vanita Gupta, associate U.S. attorney general, faced considerable opposition from Republicans during their confirmation processes.
Kristen Clarke, assistant attorney general for the civil rights division, and Vanita Gupta, associate U.S. attorney general, faced considerable opposition from Republicans during their confirmation processes.
Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

People of color nominated by President Joe Biden for administration jobs have faced, on average, a tougher and lengthier confirmation process in the Senate than their white counterparts.

Over the past year, activists and supporters have noted instances of this, pointing to several high-profile women of color who seemed to face extra hurdles.

“I have observed it. It’s very disconcerting,” Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) said.

White House data shared with HuffPost confirms this trend.

For white nominees up for administration jobs, it took an average of 95 days to go from nomination to confirmation. For nominees. of color, it took 101 days.

Black nominees took an average of 98 days and Asian nominees took 107 days. Latino nominees took less time, at 94 days.

Nominees who tend to be relatively uncontroversial traditionally get confirmed by voice votes in the Senate, which means that senators simply say “yea” or “no” in unison. But a nominee who faces more opposition is more likely to get a roll call vote, meaning that every single senator has to announce where they stand. It’s a process that takes far more time.

Fifty-six percent of white nominees have been confirmed by the simpler voice vote process during the Biden administration, compared to 50% of nominees of color.

That breaks down to 47% of Black nominees, 55% of Latino nominees and 46% of Asian nominees confirmed by voice vote.

White nominees have also received more support during roll calls. They were confirmed with an average of 67 votes, while nominees of color were confirmed with an average of 60 votes.

Some of the most notable differences emerged early on, during confirmation of the highest-profile positions in the Biden administration.

Merrick Garland, a white man, had a fairly smooth, painless path to confirmation as attorney general in a 70-30 vote. But Vanita Gupta, an Indian American woman, and Kristen Clarke, a Black woman, had far tougher, more drawn-out fights for other top Justice Department jobs.

Gupta, a civil rights lawyer nominated for the post of associate U.S. attorney general, had widespread support from advocates and law enforcement groups, yet she faced a right-wing smear campaign that described her as “dangerous.”

Conservatives tried to paint Clarke ― a civil rights lawyer nominated for assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division ― as anti-Semitic, because of an author she invited to speak at Harvard while she was a sophomore there.

Clarke and Gupta each received only one GOP vote in the Senate.

Of course, not every nominee of color has had a rocky confirmation process. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, who is Black, was confirmed easily and received bipartisan support.

But during the Cabinet nomination process in particular, the examples of women of color getting held up were notable. Neera Tanden, the former head of a progressive think tank, faced intense opposition from Republicans over her past tweets criticizing them. She eventually withdrew her nomination to be Biden’s budget chief.

“The same senators who spent years defending the hatred and anger coming from Donald Trump decided that the tweets from Neera Tanden were beyond the pale,” said Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.), chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus.

U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland, the first Native person to lead the Interior Department, was called too "radical" during her confirmation process.
U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland, the first Native person to lead the Interior Department, was called too “radical” during her confirmation process.
Susan Montoya Bryan/Associated Press

Deb Haaland, who is the first Native American to lead the Interior Department, faced Republican accusations that she was “radical.” When former California Attorney General Xavier Becerra was nominated for health and human services secretary, Republicans went after him because he was not a doctor ― even though many previous HHS heads have also not been doctors.

Haaland received four GOP votes in the Senate. Becerra received one.

“Some of these have downright been racist, the attacks have been,” Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) said. “Particularly women of color have received far greater scrutiny and attacks than any of the other nominees.”

Most recently, Saule Omarova withdrew her nomination after it became clear that she would not get enough votes to become head of the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency. Omarova, a law professor at Cornell University, faced smears from Republicans who alleged that she was secretly a communist intent on destroying American capitalism because she was born in the former Soviet Union.

Like other people of color, Omarova was branded as being too “radical” to be in government. But she also faced opposition from some Democrats, who weren’t worried about her being a communist but were concerned that she might be too tough in regulating banks.

The office of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) did not respond to a request for comment.

The disproportionate burden for people of color extends to people still waiting for confirmation. Of the top 25 nominees with the longest wait times who still have not been confirmed, 64% are people of color, according to the Partnership for Public Service, which tracks the confirmation process. In the top 50, 48% are people of color.

That is higher than the makeup of Biden’s total nominee pool. Forty-two percent of Biden’s total administration nominees have been people of color, and 51% have been women, according to data from the White House.

“The lesson these senators are sending to people of color is clear: It doesn’t matter how hard you work or what you achieve. You will always be labeled an outsider, an exception, a threat.”

– Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.)

Overall, the process for confirmation has been far slower than it was in previous administrations, because Republicans have been consistent in trying to slow down the process.

Biden has roughly 38% of non-judicial nominees confirmed, according to White House data, compared with 50% at this time for Trump and 68% for Barack Obama. (The pace is much quicker for judicial nominees; Biden has had more judges confirmed than any president in decades.)

Loren DeJonge Schulman, vice president for research and evaluation at PPS, said that under Biden, it has taken twice as much time for someone to go from nomination to confirmation for a non-judicial post as it did during Bill Clinton’s administration.

“People of color are clearly a significant part of the nominees who are not being able to move forward through this process,” she said. “Some of that is because the Biden administration has been really purposeful about nominating more people of color. But it definitely stands out to anyone who looks at it that they are a significant portion above and beyond what you would see as a representation of the overall nominees that are being held up.”

Thirteen of the 50 nominees who have been waiting the longest are up for ambassador jobs. Many of them are career civil servants who, in the past, would have been quickly confirmed because they’re considered qualified and uncontroversial.

But currently, GOP Sens. Ted Cruz (Texas) and Josh Hawley (Mo.) have placed holds on dozens of Biden nominees for the State and Defense Departments, in order to extract unrelated policy concessions.

“Another pattern that stands out to me is that when you’re looking at the ambassadors ― for several months, the only ambassadors who had been confirmed… were either former senators, former senators’ wives, or prominent politicians and donors,” DeJonge Schulman said.

There are ways to get around these sorts of GOP blocks. Senators can ask for unanimous consent to move forward with a nominee, or the majority leader, currently New York Democrat Chuck Schumer, can file cloture. This week, Schumer filed cloture on 22 nominees, including some judges.

But cloture is a time-consuming process. It requires hours of debate and roll call votes ― precious time when the Senate is trying to move forward on other issues.

To be clear, Republicans aren’t attacking every woman or person of color up for an administration job with gender- or race-related criticisms. But the overall effect of their blockade has been that a disproportionate number of those individuals aren’t getting through.

And sometimes, the attacks are indeed more explicit.

Topping the list of long wait times is Dilawar Syed, who as of Friday has been holding 289 days for confirmation to the No. 2 job at the Small Business Administration, according to data from PPS. Syed hasn’t even had a vote in committee, because Republican senators have boycotted meetings on five different occasions, preventing Democrats from proceeding with business and holding a vote.

Syed is a businessman who has stepped into public service roles both in California and at the federal level, leading engagement with small businesses for the Obama administration after the passage of the 2009 stimulus package.

GOP senators say their blockade is unrelated to Syed or his qualifications; they want the Small Business Administration to take back loans that some Planned Parenthood affiliates (legally) received under the Paycheck Protection Program during the Trump administration.

But previously, Republicans did go after Syed more directly. They questioned his allegiances because of his Muslim faith ― and the fact that he was born in Pakistan ― and implied that he might be anti-Israel because of his work with Emgage Action, a Muslim advocacy group. GOP senators backed away from that line of attack, however, when Jewish and other religious and civil rights organizations came to Syed’s defense.

“The lesson these senators are sending to people of color is clear: It doesn’t matter how hard you work or what you achieve. You will always be labeled an outsider, an exception, a threat,” Chu said. “Lacking any policy platform, Republicans need enemies in order to animate their base. And amid a tide of rising hate crimes and especially anti-Asian violence, they have decided that people of color are the most convenient. Their record of holdups and double standards speaks for itself.”

Igor Bobic and Arthur Delaney contributed reporting.

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