Asian-American Lawmakers Press Biden on Transport Secretary

Asian-American lawmakers have urged President-elect Joe Biden to pick California’s transportation chief David Kim for the equivalent role in his cabinet.

Nineteen members of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus encouraged Biden to consider Kim as transportation secretary, adding to a list of candidates that includes big-city mayors and an ex-governor.

The caucus said Friday that it would be unacceptable for Biden not to appoint at least one Asian-American to a “Secretary-level” position, noting that the four previous administrations combined for a total of six. Elaine Chao, the current transportation secretary, is Taiwanese American.

“AAPIs are the fastest growing racial population in the country and came out in record numbers to elect Joe Biden to be our next President of the United States,” the group said in a statement. “And yet, for the first time in over two decades, we are facing the possibility that there might not be a single AAPI Cabinet Secretary in a presidential administration. Let us be clear: that outcome is unacceptable.”

Trade Representative

Biden announced Friday he’s appointing House Ways and Means Committee lawyer Katherine Tai, who’s Asian-American, to be the U.S. Trade Representative, a cabinet-level post not designated as a secretary.

Biden’s transition team didn’t respond to a request for comment. The president-elect, who campaigned on a pledge to build a cabinet that “looks like America,” has faced pressure to fulfill his promise to maximize diversity in his selections.

His transition team met Monday with representatives of the Asian-American caucus, according to its chairwoman, Representative Judy Chu, a California Democrat.

Chu called it a positive meeting in which the group “discussed the critical need to ensure that AAPIs are well represented throughout the entire Biden-Harris administration, particularly in the cabinet and other senior roles.” The group pointed out that California Senator and now Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, who will be the first Black or Indian-American woman elected vice president, is a member of the caucus.

‘Battle-Tested’

Kim, 55, has been California’s transportation chief since July 2019. Prior to that he served as vice president of government affairs for Hyundai Motor Co. and was deputy administrator of the Transportation Department’s Federal Highway Administration in the last year of the Obama administration.

In their letter to the Biden team, the lawmakers called Kim “a proven, battle-tested transportation leader whose considerable experience and know-how will enable him to hit the ground running on day one.”

The lawmakers said Kim would be an asset given Biden’s goal of significantly ramping up electric car charging stations in the U.S., calling him “a leader in promoting and advancing zero emission vehicles in California.”

Kim launched numerous initiatives to expand electric vehicle charging at Interstate rest areas and other locations that are convenient for the traveling public, they added.

Others under consideration to be Biden’s transportation secretary, according to people familiar with the deliberations, include Jennifer Granholm, former governor of Michigan, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, and former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg.

Garcetti has been viewed as a front-runner given his previous work with Biden on climate issues, which the president-elect has identified as a top-tier issue. Garcetti, who’s Hispanic, endorsed Biden during the Democratic primary.

Emanuel was touted by former Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, a Republican who served under President Barack Obama and has links to Biden advisers, as someone who could provide a big-city perspective on the need for infrastructure investments. The emergence of Emanuel’s name angered some civil rights groups and progressive activists because of his handling of a high-profile police shooting involving an African-American man during his mayoral tenure.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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