Marc Short, chief of staff for Vice President Mike Pence, claimed that Elaine Chao’s role as secretary of transportation in the Trump administration is “evidence” that the president isn’t racist, prompting many Asian Americans to speak out to set the record straight.
Over the weekend, President Donald Trump tweeted that four Democratic congresswomen should “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime-infested places from which they came.”
After Trump received widespread backlash for the tweet, Short attempted to claim that Chao’s position in Trump’s cabinet was somehow indicative of his morals.
“When people write that the president has racist motives here, it’s just, look at the reality at who’s actually serving in Donald Trump’s cabinet,” he told Fox News’ Dagen McDowell.
In an effort to clarify Short’s statement, Pence’s deputy press secretary Darin Miller made a separate racist point about the type of immigrant the Trump administration deems worthy.
“Secretary Chao’s story is an example of what the President supports: She came legally to the U.S., worked hard and assimilated,” Miller wrote in an email to HuffPost.
Jo-Ann Yoo, executive director of the social services nonprofit Asian American Federation, told HuffPost that she initially “cringed and laughed” at Short’s rationale.
“To tokenize the one Asian woman in the President’s cabinet is further evidence of the racism perpetuated in the Trump White House,” Yoo said.
She added: “Short thinks that you can absolve yourself from racism by knowing/hiring one Asian. He is dead wrong! There is diversity in communities of color and to say one person can represent all the communities of color is ignorant and insulting.”
Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.), chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, echoed many of Yoo’s thoughts. In a statement to HuffPost, Chu wrote that the president’s relationship with Chao doesn’t excuse his racist tweets.
″‘Go back to your home’ is an unambiguously hateful statement that Trump made simply because of the race of the four Members of Congress he was attacking,” she wrote. “I have had that attack hurled against me, as have many other Americans. And never once has the pain been lessened by knowing that the racist insult was said by somebody who may also know another minority.”
Trump’s tweets are not only racist but are also an attempt “to paint U.S. citizens with immigrant roots as less American than anyone else,” Chu told HuffPost in a separate statement.
She noted that many in Asian American communities have been told to “go back to where they came from” regardless of how long their families have lived in the United States.
Chao’s seat in the administration can hardly be considered a win for diversity, added John C. Yang, the president and executive director of the civil rights group Asian Americans Advancing Justice.
Since Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen’s resignation in April, there are only three women in Trump’s cabinet. A New York Times piece in 2017 pointed out that the president’s cabinet was, at the time, already the most white and most male since the 1980s.
“Elaine Chao’s position in the administration is a pebble in an ocean of diverse talent that could be serving in this administration,” Yang said. “The virtual absence of any African American or Latino American judicial nominees, and the exceedingly few diverse faces in any public gathering involving this president shows that the president is not interested in unifying Americans but rather is only interested in dividing us into different factions.”
Ultimately, Yang said, Short is using an Asian American “to justify the treatment and marginalization of other communities of color like African Americans and Latinx Americans.”
“Short’s comment was deeply offensive on many levels.”
This story has been updated to include a comment from the vice president’s office.
This article originally appeared on HuffPost.