Biden Picks Liaison to Asian Community After Uptick in Violence

President Joe Biden picked a former Democratic congressional staff member to serve as a liaison to the Asian-American and Pacific Islander community, according to a person familiar with the matter, following an increase in attacks in the U.S. on people of Asian descent.

Biden selected Erika Moritsugu to fill the role created after Asian-American lawmakers raised concern about a lack of representation in senior positions in the administration.

“The White House will add a senior level Asian-American Pacific Islander liaison, who will ensure the community’s voice is further represented and heard,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said last month, before Biden made his selection.

The appointment comes amid an increase in attacks against Asian Americans during the pandemic. Psaki has said former President Donald Trump bears some blame for the violence, citing his frequently offensive comments about the virus’s origins in China.

Six women of Asian descent were among eight people shot and killed in the Atlanta area last month. The suspect in that case blamed his actions on a sex addiction.

Moritsugu was general counsel to Illinois Senator Tammy Duckworth and also worked for the deceased Hawaii Senator Daniel Akaka and for the Democratic Policy Committee. She is currently vice president for congressional relations and economic justice at the National Partnership for Women & Families.

Members of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus complained that Biden’s cabinet is the first in decades not to include an Asian American or Pacific Islander leading a department, though Vice President Kamala Harris and U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai both have that heritage.

Neera Tanden, who is Indian American, was Biden’s nominee to lead the Office of Management and Budget but withdrew after senators criticized comments she made on Twitter. Biden is slated to meet with members of the caucus on Thursday, though Moritsugu is not expected to attend, Psaki said Wednesday.

Duckworth and Hawaii Senator Mazie Hirono had threatened to oppose many Biden nominees until the administration took steps to improve the situation. With the Senate evenly divided along party lines, the no-vote of any Democrat has the potential to stall a nomination.

Duckworth’s threat came after she raised concerns about a lack of AAPI representation among Biden nominees in a call with Senate Democrats and the White House. Duckworth said that Deputy Chief of Staff Jen O’Malley Dillon responded that the administration is proud of Harris, whose mother was Indian. It was “incredibly insulting” to suggest that Harris’s presence was sufficient, Duckworth said.

Duckworth described Biden as “caring and thoughtful and humane” in discussing discrimination against people of Asian and Pacific Islander descent. But she said the conversation with his staff “was the trigger for me.”

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