Erika Moritsugu is the White House’s new senior AAPI Liaison
The appointment comes after the Biden admin was called out for failing to appoint an AAPI person to a cabinet position.
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Late last month, Sens. Tammy Duckworth and Mazie Hirono, the only two Asian-Americans in the Senate, extended a slightly aggressive ultimatum to President Biden in regards to racial diversity within the senior-level White House positions.
Biden’s cabinet is pretty diverse, but both Latino and Asian-Americans haven’t reached equal representation.
The White House responded by announcing the creation of a senior AAPI Liaison. Nearly a month later, that liaison has a name, and it is Erika Moritsugu.
In light of the alarming increase in anti-Asian violence and harassment, Duckworth and Hirono took issue with the fact that no Asian-American lawmaker was granted a seat in Biden’s cabinet.
After @SenDuckworth & @maziehirono vow to oppose Biden nominees over lack of #AAPI representation, my @TheHillOpinion wins renewed interest.— Curtis S. Chin (@CurtisSChin) March 24, 2021
"for a once silent, too often stereotyped 'model minority,' now is not a time for the AAPI community to settle. https://t.co/L1q62uXRCi
Sen. Duckworth was the first to take a stand on the matter on March 23, when she declared that she would oppose any of Biden’s nominees that are not AAPI’s (Asian American Pacific Islanders).
In a conversation with reporters, Duckworth expressed her exasperation, stating that she has been discussing these concerns with her Senate colleagues for months, with no success.
“So I am not going to be voting for any nominees from the White House other than diversity nominees. I’ll be a ‘No’ on everyone until they figure this out,” she said.
In an especially tense conversation with some of Biden’s aides, including deputy chief of staff Jen O’Malley, Duckworth was told something that led to a “last-straw” moment.
According to a report by Politico, O’Malley attempted to make a positive comment to appease the senator’s concerns, by praising the inauguration of Vice President Kamala Harris, who is of both Black and Indian descent.
Sen. Duckworth wasn’t exactly thrilled with O’Malley’s remark insinuating that Asian-American lawmakers, and therefore all Asians in the U.S., should simply be happy that a South Asian is now the Vice President, and not strive for more.
A few hours after Duckworth’s announcement, Sen. Marie Hirono stood with her colleague and demanded AAPI representation in high-level positions, especially now.
"This is not about pitting one diversity group against another. I think this is a well articulated focus position and I am prepared to join her," Sen. Hirono says after Sen. Duckworth says she will oppose WH nominees until the AAPI community is represented https://t.co/YbDUAUgewR— MSNBC (@MSNBC) March 24, 2021
“This is not about pitting one diversity group against another. So I'm happy to vote for a Hispanic, a Black person, an LGBTQ person, an AAPI person. I'd just like to see more diversity representation,” Hirono told reporters.
Both Senators backed off from their righteous threat later in the day, when White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki disclosed that the administration will name a senior AAPI liaison to “ensure the community’s voice is further represented and heard.”
On Wednesday, April 14, the Biden administration officially appointed Moritsugu to serve as deputy assistant to the president as well as the AAPI senior liaison.
She is currently the vice president of the National Partnership for Women and Families. Before her work with this organization, she was the vice president of government relations, advocacy and community engagement at the Anti-Defamation League.
Additionally, Moritsugu was an assistant secretary at the Department of Housing and Urban Development during the Obama administration, so the new role won’t be her first time serving under a President.
Proud to say Erika Moritsugu is from Hawaii and that I’ve known her family for decades.— Senator Mazie Hirono (@maziehirono) April 15, 2021
Erika’s designation as a deputy assistant to the president demonstrates that the White House heard the AAPI community’s call for this role to be a senior level position. https://t.co/xkHaGKtOoo
Moritsugu also served as general counsel for Sen. Tammy Duckworth, who praised her appointment in a statement on Wednesday night.
Duckworth first thanked President Biden for swiftly addressing her concerns and establishing this necessary position, and shared how confident she is in the new liaison, as someone who has worked so closely with her.
“I know first-hand that President Biden will benefit from [Moritsugu’s] counsel, policy expertise and strong relationship-building skills, especially as his administration seeks to make sure AAPI leaders are present at the highest level of government,” she said.
This is a terrific selection. Erika Moritsugu combines extensive legislative and executive experience with a strong commitment to economic and racial justice. She will be a forceful advocate for the AAPI community. https://t.co/oW8yWP4r8j— Chris Lu (@ChrisLu44) April 14, 2021
"Moritsugu will bring her experience and expertise to the Biden-Harris Administration where she will be a vital voice to advance the President and the Administration's priorities," the White House said in a statement.
The Asian-American community is suffering right now, and while representation alone will not solve the deep-rooted issues of anti-Asian sentiments and systemic racism. Moritsugu’s counsel will help President Biden properly and efficiently address the pressing needs of Asian-Americans across the nation.