WASHINGTON — President-elect Joe Biden introduced several of his nominees to lead domestic policy agencies on Friday, emphasizing how members of his Cabinet would harness the powers of the federal government to help Americans in need.
Accompanied by Vice President-elect Kamala Harris at the event in a Wilmington, Delaware hotel, Biden began with brief remarks about the coronavirus pandemic before presenting his nominee to lead the Department of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack.
He also introduced his nominee for secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Rep. Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio; his nominee for secretary of Veterans' Affairs, Denis McDonough; and for U.S. trade representative, Katherine Tai.
Biden also announced that Susan Rice, a former national security adviser to President Barack Obama, had agreed to serve as the director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, a powerful West Wing position which will give Rice broad sway over a range of issues.
Taken together, Biden said, his nominees "bring deep experience and bold new thinking" to federal agencies and the White House. "Above all, they know how government should and can work for all Americans."
Biden emphasized how each member of his Cabinet would help Americans facing multiple overlapping crises: The coronavirus pandemic, a deep recession, and a looming surge in evictions and food insecurity.
Fudge, for instance, will use "every lever at her disposal to help the millions of Americans facing eviction — trying to pay their mortgage and find their way through this crisis," said Biden.
And Vilsack "knows the full range of resources available in the [Department of Agriculture] to get immediate relief to those most in need, and address the crises facing rural America."
The nominees also gave brief remarks, and they emphasized how different federal agencies would contribute to a nationwide recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.
Rice spoke last, and tied it all together.
"Today, we confront a profoundly connected set of crises: a relentless pandemic, a struggling economy, urgent demands for racial equity and justice, a climate in need of healing, a democracy in need of repair, and a world in need of renewed American leadership," she said.
"Our top priorities will be to help end the pandemic and revitalize an economy that delivers for all; to bring dignity and humanity to our broken immigration system; to advance racial equity, justice and civil rights for all; to ensure that health care is affordable and accessible; and to educate and train Americans to compete and thrive in the 21st-century," Rice continued.
"I profoundly believe that we all rise or fall together — absolutely all of us."
Just 40 days out from his inauguration, Biden is assembling a Cabinet that is unprecedented in its racial and gender diversity. Tai, Fudge and Rice are all women of color.
Earlier this week, Biden announced that retired Gen. Lloyd Austin was his choice to lead the Pentagon, making Austin the first Black man ever to be nominated secretary of Defense.
Biden has nonetheless come under intense pressure from civil rights groups to add even more diversity to his Cabinet, in particular, to nominate an Asian American for a top Cabinet post.
On Friday, several groups that represent Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders published a joint statement decrying what they said was "the notable absence of Asian American Cabinet Secretaries" in the Biden administration.
"President-Elect Biden is on track to be the first President in over 20 years to fail to nominate an Asian American for a Cabinet Secretary role in their administration," said the statement, which was sent to CNBC by the National Council of Asian Pacific Americans.
But Asian Americans are not the only group currently pressuring Biden for greater representation in his White House: On Tuesday he and Harris met with the leaders of legacy civil rights groups, including the NAACP and the National Urban League.
They urged Biden to create a new position in the White House, a racial equity advisor, who would be tasked with coordinating government-wide efforts to combat systemic racism.
Biden has so far declined to comment on the specific recommendations and requests he is getting from advocates. But he told CNN last week, "every advocacy group out there is pushing for more and more and more of what they want. That's their job."
But in the same interview, Biden also defended his Cabinet picks, noting that they already made up "the most diverse cabinet anyone in American history has ever announced."