President Joe Biden on Wednesday named Erika Moritsugu to a senior-level Asian American and Pacific Islander liaison position, the White House announced in a statement.
Moritsugu, whose official title will be deputy assistant to the President and Asian American and Pacific Islander senior liaison, “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 statement said.
The announcement comes less than a month after the White House committed to naming a senior-level AAPI liaison following pressure from Sen. Tammy Duckworth of Illinois and Sen. Mazie Hirono of Hawaii, both Democrats who expressed frustration with the lack of AAPI representation in the Cabinet and top administration roles and threatened to block the nominations of non-diverse administration picks.
Moritsugu was a vice president at the National Partnership for Women & Families and led the organization’s Economic Justice team. She previously was an assistant secretary at the Department of Housing and Urban Development during the Obama administration and has extensive experience on Capitol Hill, including having served as a general counsel to Duckworth.
Two sources familiar with the decision told CNN earlier Wednesday that Moritsugu was the White House’s expected pick. CBS was first to report the anticipated announcement.
Biden will meet on Thursday with members of the Congressional Asian Pacific American caucus at the White House. Moritsugu is not expected to attend the meeting.
“I don’t expect that person will be attending tomorrow but hopefully we’ll have more to share soon,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said when asked about the potential naming of a liaison earlier Wednesday.
Last month, Duckworth and Hirono voiced their displeasure with the White House over the lack of AAPI representation in the Cabinet. Duckworth also said she felt insulted by attempts from the White House to brush off her concerns.
“To be told that, ‘You have Kamala Harris, we are very proud of her, you don’t need anybody else,’ is insulting,” Duckworth said at the time, adding she was told that “multiple times” by the White House. “That’s not something you would say to the Black caucus — that you have Kamala — we’re not going to be putting any African Americans in the Cabinet — why would you say that to AAPIs?”
Only one Asian American currently serves in the Cabinet — US Trade Representative Katherine Tai. Neera Tanden, who would have been the first woman of South Asian descent to lead the Office of Management and Budget, withdrew her nomination after she faced opposition from some key senators.
The lack of AAPI representation in the top rungs of the administration has come under renewed scrutiny amid an uptick in violence against Asian Americans during the pandemic. Last month, eight people, including six Asian women, were killed in a string of shootings at Atlanta-area spas.
The Senate is currently working to advance a bill to address the increase in hate crimes against Asian Americans by creating the Covid-19 Hate Crimes Act, which would assign a Justice Department official to expedite reviews of potential Covid-19 related hate crimes as well as establish an online database.
The Office of Management and Budget released an official administration policy in support of the bill Wednesday, saying, “The Biden Administration continues to condemn in the strongest possible terms the increasing acts of anti-Asian bias, harassment and violence. As the Nation continues to mourn the tragic loss of life and livelihoods that this rise in anti-Asian xenophobia has brought, elected leaders must act to prevent anti-Asian violence and advance inclusion and belonging for all Asian American communities.”
The White House recently announced a series of actions it was taking to address anti-Asian violence, including reestablishing the Obama-era White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders with a focus on addressing anti-Asian bias and violence; allocating $49.5 million in funding for AAPI survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault; and establishing a Justice Department cross-agency initiative to address anti-Asian violence.
This story has been updated with the White House’s official announcement.