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Biden team announces new staff picks, highlighting effort to ‘build an administration that looks like America’

President-elect Joe Biden’s transition team plans to announce Wednesday a new slate of staffers for their incoming administration and to celebrate hitting their goal of 100 diverse appointments by the end of 2020.

As part of the roll out, the transition team will call attention to the first set of 100-plus White House staffers, which they said is made up of 61 percent women, 54 percent people of color, and nearly 20 percent first-generation Americans. The new aides, who will focus on tasks like implementing policies and working with Congress, will work in a number of offices at various levels, including the White House Presidential Personnel Office, Office of Legislative Affairs, Office of the Vice President, Office of the Staff Secretary, and Oval Office Operations.

The announcements, which PBS NewsHour is the first to report, come as Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, who is the first Black person and first South Asian American to hold that position, continue to stress that their administration will be the most diverse in history and as advocates pressure them to keep that promise both with cabinet level picks and with lower level aides. In a statement released to NewsHour, President-elect Biden celebrated the new staffers and said a diverse team will be critical to tackling the challenges he and Harris will face when they come into office in a few weeks.

“From the beginning, Vice President-elect Harris and I have sought to build an administration that looks like America,” Biden said. “Building a diverse team will lead to better outcomes and more effective solutions to address the urgent crises facing our nation. The appointees named today will draw from their expertise and life experiences to help us build the country back better. Moving forward together, there’s nothing we can’t accomplish.”

Biden’s statement echoes past comments he’s made when announcing aides as well as cabinet level picks, including his selection of Rep. Deb Haaland, D-N.M., as the first Native American to head the Department of the Interior, General Lloyd Austin as the first Black man to head the Defense Department, Janet Yellen as the first woman nominated to be Treasury secretary, and Pete Buttigieg, who as Biden’s nominee for Transportation, could become the first Senate-confirmed LGBTQ cabinet secretary. A number of cabinet level positions remain open, including attorney general and the secretaries of Commerce and Labor.

Meanwhile, according to the transition team, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders make up about 12 percent of all White House staffers and LGBTQ appointees account for 11 percent of all White House staff. They also highlighted that almost 40 percent of White House senior staff “have children at home.”

The Biden team would not provide a breakdown of White House staffers by more specific race and ethnicity categories. But, a NewsHour tally of publicly released names found that about 40 percent of the staffers are women of color, about 20 percent are African Americans and roughly another 20 percent are Hispanic.

In a statement released to NewsHour, Harris said she was proud to introduce the new staffers. “To meet the unprecedented challenges facing the American people, we must build an administration that reflects the very best of our country,” she said. “I look forward to working with them to get this virus under control, safely and responsibly reopen our economy and our schools, and build back our country in a way that lifts up all Americans.”

Still, civil rights groups have been pushing Biden and Harris to make their appointments and cabinet level picks even more diverse. A number of officials told NewsHour that while the Biden-Harris administration is on the right path, more needs to be done.

“Compared to where we were, he’s doing alright,” longtime civil rights leader Rev. Al Sharpton, who heads up the National Action Network, said of Biden and his picks. “Am I giving him an A? No. Am I going to keep pushing? Yes. That is our job. He said that is our job. He understands that we are going to keep pushing. We pushed with [President Barack] Obama. But at least [with Biden] you’ve got somebody that you can meet with and deal with to push. We were not even in the arena to push with Trump.”

Sharpton said he would give Biden a higher grade on his picks if the incoming president chose a Black person or someone with “an extensive civil rights record” to be the next attorney general.

Another advocate who is waiting to see more of Biden’s picks to fully assess how well he’s done is Thomas A. Saenz, president and general counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund. His advocacy group is part of the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda, a coalition of more than 40 national Latino civil rights organizations, that has been pushing for more Hispanics to be included in the administration.

“I would have to give him an incomplete at this point just because there are some very critical positions still open,” Saenz said of Biden. “There are still some gaps for the Latino community and if those aren’t filled during this first set of appointments, I would hope that they would be certainly a goal for later on in the administration.”

Saenz said in particular that he would like to see a Latina woman serve in a cabinet level position and that overall, he would like to see Latinos make up at least 20 percent of the overall administration because he anticipates Latinos will make up about 20 percent of the United States population in the next Census report. According to 2019 Census estimates, roughly 18 percent of the U.S. population is Hispanic or Latino.

Wednesday’s announcements include a number of longtime Biden aides and Democratic party aides who come from a broad array of backgrounds and who will be working closely with the president and vice president to jump start-their goals

Ashley Williams, who has worked for the Biden family in a number of roles for the past decade, will be the first Black woman to be deputy director of Oval Office Operations. A native of Tallahassee, Fla., Williams currently works as the trip director for the transition team, a role she held on the Biden-Harris campaign. Karen Andre, who served as a senior advisor to the campaign in Florida and for national faith outreach, will be special assistant to the president for presidential personnel. In the past, Andre, who also worked in the Obama administration, served as senior advisor to Andrew Gillum, the Democratic nominee for governor of Florida who lost his bid in 2018.

Angela Ramirez, a senior transition staffer who was once chief of staff to Rep. Ben Ray Luján, D-N.M., will be Biden’s House legislative affairs liaison. Chris Slevin, a longtime Senate aide who works on the transition and was also vice president of the Economic Innovation Group, a research and advocacy organization focused on geographic inequality, will be Biden’s deputy director of the White House Office of Legislative Affairs.

Josh Hsu, who serves as the director of judicial nominations on the transition and once served as the national policy director for Harris’ own presidential campaign, will be counsel to the vice president. Stephen Goepfert, another Obama administration alumni who worked as personal aide to Biden during the campaign and the transition, will continue that role when Biden is sworn in as president. Jessica Hertz, the current general counsel for the Biden-Harris transition, who held a number of roles during the Obama-Biden administration including principal deputy counsel in the vice president’s office, will be staff secretary once the administration gets started.

Incoming White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain celebrated the picks in a statement to NewsHour. “The president-elect and vice president-elect have been committed to building a White House team that is filled with crisis-tested experts who will hit the ground running on day one,” he said. “I am thrilled that we have accomplished our goal of naming 100 staff members by the end of 2020 — and I could not be more proud of the talented and diverse team we will put to work for the American people.”

For Lauren Buita, who created Girl Security, a program that gets young women and girls interested in national security and foreign affairs, the appointments are a first step, but they must be reinforced with the political will and support required to achieve systemic change. “Beyond changing the optics of our federal government, it demonstrates the administration’s commitment to appointing qualified leadership,” she said. “However, the Biden administration must ensure its policy priorities sustain the intention behind such diverse appointments amid other pressing challenges.”

The NAACP has been urging Biden to create a new position– the national advisor to the president on racial justice, equity and advancement, to make sure racial equity is a priority across the administration.

As the group waits to see if Biden, who has already created new positions on climate, will follow through on their request, NAACP president Derrick Johnson is praising Biden for keeping “much of his promise of having the most diverse cabinet” and doing so “in the face of much criticism and concern from the Black community who are not getting some of the things that are being demanded.”

READ: Biden introduces his climate team, says ‘no time to waste’

But like Buita, Johnson stressed that representation isn’t enough, and said the real challenge will be actually implementing change using all of the people working in the incoming administration.

“The real metric for me, for the NAACP, is how we will do racial equity in this administration’s policy implementation,” he said. “At the end of the day, having a really diverse team is important. But the real question is, what are you assigning them to do? And the assignment for them should be to ensure racial equity is the part of the policy priorities that they are pursuing in their everyday activities.”

List of New Staff Announcements:

Zephranie Buetow, Special Assistant to the President and Senate Legislative Affairs Liaison

Kaitlyn Hobbs Demers, Special Assistant to the President and Chief of Staff for the Office of Legislative Affairs

Christopher Garcia, Senior Legislative Affairs Advisor

Ashley Jones, Special Assistant to the President and House Legislative Affairs Liaison

Alicia Molt-West, Special Assistant to the President and House Legislative Affairs Liaison
Angela Ramirez, Special Assistant to the President and House Legislative Affairs Liaison

Dana Shubat, Senior Legislative Affairs Advisor

Lee Slater, Special Assistant to the President and House Legislative Affairs Liaison

Chris Slevin, Deputy Assistant to the President for Legislative Affairs

Cynthia Bernstein, Director of Management and Administration for the Office of the Vice President

Josh Hsu, Counsel to the Vice President

Karen Andre, Special Assistant to the President for Presidential Personnel

Jamie Citron, Special Assistant to the President for Presidential Personnel

Corina Cortez, Special Assistant to the President for Presidential Personnel

Matt Dannenberg, Senior Associate Director

Dani Durante, Director for Leadership & Training

Stacy Eichner, Senior Associate Director

Danielle Okai, Senior Associate Director

Katie Petrelius, Special Assistant to the President for Presidential Personnel

Jacob Sztraicher, Senior Associate Director

Rachel Wallace, Special Assistant to the President and Chief of Staff for the Office of Presidential Personnel

Allison Wong, Senior Associate Director

Thomas Zimmerman, Special Assistant to the President for Presidential Personnel

Jessica Hertz, Staff Secretary

Michael Hochman, Deputy Staff Secretary

Stephen Goepfert, Personal Aide to the President of the United States

Ashley Williams, Deputy Director of Oval Office Operations

PBS NewsHour’s Ali Rogin contributed reporting for this story.