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‘It’s about a lot of things’: Trump team defends level of diversity in Cabinet

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President-elect Donald Trump’s Cabinet is set to be the first since Ronald Reagan’s not to have a Latino or Hispanic member.

Despite outcry for a more diverse administration, the real estate mogul’s proposed Cabinet secretaries are mostly white men, who are set to be joined by two white women, one Asian-American woman and one black man. There are zero Democrats.

The Latino community overwhelmingly sided with Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton in the presidential election. Many were concerned by Trump’s pledges to deport 11 million immigrants who entered the country illegally, as well as his pledge to build a massive wall on the border between Mexico and the U.S., among other issues.

Hopes that Trump might select a Latino person for a Cabinet-level position were all but dashed Wednesday night amid reports that he had tapped former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue for agriculture secretary. The Trump team officially announced the Perdue pick Thursday morning, rounding out his proposed Cabinet just one day before being sworn in to the Oval Office.

On Thursday morning, Trump’s incoming press secretary, Sean Spicer, was asked to address the fact that the Cabinet list is the first since 1988 not to feature any Hispanic people and whether this undermines Trump’s stated desire to represent all Americans.

“I think when you look at the totality of his administration, the people that he’s talked to, the people that he’s met with, the people that he’s appointing, you see a president that’s committed to uniting this country, who’s bringing the best and the brightest together,” Spicer said at the Trump transition team’s offices in Washington, D.C.

Incoming White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer gave a brief preview of President-elect Donald Trump's inaugural address, and also talked about priorities for the first days of Trump's administration. (Photo: AP)
Incoming White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer gave a brief preview of President-elect Donald Trump’s inaugural address, and also talked about priorities for the first days of the Trump administration. (Photo: AP)

Spicer then reminded listeners that Trump chose Elaine Chao (who is Asian-American) for transportation secretary, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson (who is African-American) for housing secretary and South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (who is Indian-American) for U.N. ambassador, which is a Cabinet-level position.

“Look at the Cabinet. Elaine Chao, Dr. Ben Carson,” he said, motioning to the former presidential candidate, who was in the room. “Gov. Nikki Haley, the first Indian-American… The number one thing that Americans should focus on is, is he hiring the best and the brightest? Is he hiring people who are committed to enacting real change?”

Spicer said that diversity is not just about skin color or ethnic heritage but also about gender, thinking and ideology. He said the “totality of the diversity” in Trump’s Cabinet is “second to none.”

“It’s about a lot of things, and I think you can pick out one group and say, ‘Where is the percentage of that?’” he said.

Later in the press conference, a reporter pressed Spicer on Trump’s statement that he was looking for “the best and the brightest” for his Cabinet. This implies, the reporter suggested, that out of the 56 million Hispanic people in the U.S., no one was bright enough for the position. Spicer rejected this claim outright.

“That’s not what I said. He has tremendous respect,” he replied. “And again, I think you have to look at the totality of diversity which exists within this Cabinet. There are so many ways in which to express this. Both in terms of gender and background, race, ideology. He continues to put together an amazingly diverse Cabinet.”

In contrast, more than half of Obama’s outgoing Cabinet members are not white men: Attorney General Loretta Lynch (an African-American woman), Interior Secretary Sally Jewell (a white woman), Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker (a white woman), Labor Secretary Thomas Perez (a Dominican-American man), Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell (a white woman), Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro (a Mexican-American man), Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx (an African-American man), Education Secretary John King (an African-American man) and Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson (an African-American man).

According to Spicer, by the time Trump fills all the roughly 5,000 positions in his administration, people will respect the level of diversity and “a tremendous number of Hispanic Americans” will fill those posts.

“I caution people to stay tuned. A lot of great things are coming,” he said.

The National Hispanic Leadership Agenda (NHLA) condemned Trump throughout the presidential campaign for using “racist, anti-immigrant, anti-Latino” rhetoric, which it said has real-life consequences.

Hector Sanchez, the chair of the NHLA, said that Trump had the most hostile platform toward immigrants of any successful presidential candidate in more than five decades.

“Former Governor Perdue’s nomination as secretary of agriculture means Mr. Trump’s Cabinet picks include no Latinos. This development is not a surprise and only further underscores the pattern we witnessed during his campaign,” Sanchez told Yahoo News in a statement.

“NHLA has long maintained that our democracy works best when we have a government that is representative of the diverse voices of every community. Mr. Trump’s Cabinet nominees lack such diversity. NHLA will continue its advocacy for the inclusion of Latinos in government who are committed to advancing our community’s shared Latino policy priorities.”

Late last month, there was speculation that Trump wanted to find a Latino person for the position of agriculture secretary to quell the mounting criticism that his Cabinet was not diverse enough. To discuss the position, he met with former Under Secretary of Agriculture for Food Safety Elsa Murano (who is Cuban-American) and former California Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado (who is Mexican-American).

Perdue, 70, served two terms as governor (from 2003 to 2011). He was Georgia’s first Republican governor since the Reconstruction era. He served in the Air Force in the early 1970s before becoming a veterinarian, launching an agriculture business and entering politics.

The agriculture secretary oversees the federal department responsible for regulating the farming industry, ensuring food quality and administering the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (previously called the Food Stamp Program).

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