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Essential Politics: A majority-woman administration? Biden's on track – Los Angeles Times

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This is the March 26, 2021, edition of the Essential Politics newsletter. Like what you’re reading? Sign up to get it in your inbox three times a week.

With his Cabinet confirmed and a significant share of other senior appointments in place, President Biden is on track to achieve something never before seen in the U.S. — an administration with a majority of senior positions filled by women.

Through Friday morning, Biden has nominated or announced 84 senior appointments that require Senate confirmation — 24 in his Cabinet and 60 to sub-Cabinet positions and senior spots in federal agencies.

We counted them up: 56% of those appointments have gone to women. Among the sub-Cabinet positions, just over 60% have gone to women, including Rachel Levine, whose confirmation as assistant secretary for health at the Department of Health and Human Services made her the first openly transgender person to win Senate approval.

Nearly half the sub-Cabinet nominations to date have gone to people of color.

The administration has also named hundreds of people to staff jobs that don’t require a Senate vote, and while the statistics aren’t complete on those, the same pattern appears to be holding true.

The administration is, of course, still in its early going, and Biden has hundreds more senior positions to fill at federal departments, boards and agencies, not to mention nominations of federal judges — the first wave of those could come as early as next week — and ambassadors, which are also likely to start rolling out in April.

So the numbers could still change, but the share of top posts going to women has stayed consistent so far. They show that Biden has made significant strides on a campaign promise that matters to a large number of Democratic voters.

Impact of diversity

The quest for diversity in appointments hasn’t been entirely smooth for Biden. The inner circle of long-time advisors around him are men, with the exception of his sister, Valerie Biden Owens, who managed his first Senate campaign and has remained a close advisor.

During the campaign, Biden successfully widened that circle. Then, in the transition, amid competition for a limited supply of Cabinet slots, advocates for historically underrepresented groups each pressed the Biden team to do more.

That pressure has continued. This week, for example, Sens. Tammy Duckworth of Illinois and Mazie Hirono of Hawaii briefly threatened to hold up confirmation of some nominees to protest the shortage of Asian Americans in the Cabinet. Although Katherine Tai, the U.S. trade representative, has Cabinet rank, none of the 15 traditional Cabinet departments is headed by an Asian American.

The next flash point on that debate likely will come as Biden decides who will replace Neera Tanden as his nominee to head the Office of Management and Budget. Tanden withdrew her name last month after it became clear that her nomination would not get through the Senate.

Many members of Congress have publicly supported Shalanda Young, who was sworn in Friday as OMB’s deputy director and will serve as the budget office’s acting chief. Young is a Black woman. But Rep. Judy Chu (D-Monterey Park), who chairs the congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, is among the AAPI leaders calling for someone from their community to get that post.

Even as that issue gets hashed out, Biden’s appointments so far have set new marks for diversity. Of the traditional Cabinet departments, only six are headed by white men, and one of them, Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg, is the first openly gay man to head a Cabinet department.

“President Biden believes that the full participation of everyone — including women and girls — across all aspects of our society is essential to the well-being, health, and security of the United States, and to making our government more representative,” White House Deputy Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said in a statement.

“We are proud that throughout the administration, including at the White House, the leadership is majority women, and we remain committed to building an administration that is reflective of America.”

On gender, Biden’s record so far represents “a point of significant progress,” said Kelly Dittmar, a political scientist at the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University in New Jersey.

On the eve of World War II, what was then known as the Women’s Bureau at the Department of Labor prepared a report on women’s employment in government for Frances Perkins, President Franklin D. Roosevelt‘s secretary of Labor — the first woman to hold a Cabinet post.

Women made up one-fifth of the federal workforce at that point, “largely, as before, in the usual clerical fields,” the report said.

That picture changed, but only gradually. After Perkins, no woman headed a Cabinet agency until 1975, when President Ford appointed Carla Hills to head the department of Housing and Urban Development.

Into the 1990s, such appointments remained scarce, Dittmar said. When President Clinton won election in 1992, he pledged to make diversity a major aspect of his appointments, and his administration set a high point for women in the Cabinet that none of his successors matched until Biden.

Biden, she said, had set a “new benchmark” against which future administrations will be measured.

Notably, a large share of the appointees to date — both men and women — have children living at home, although precise statistics are hard to come by. That’s significant given the attention in recent years to the question of whether senior government jobs are set up in ways that make them difficult for parents to manage.

Statistics can measure the change; gauging the impact is harder.

“Just because a woman is elected or appointed doesn’t mean you all of a sudden get a childcare bill passed,” said Dittmar. But bringing a greater diversity of voices and experiences into debates clearly changes both the nature of the discussion and the outcomes, she added, helping officials avoid blind spots and expanding the range of ideas that go into developing policies.

That’s true throughout the government, said Max Stier, president of the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service, an organization that works with elected officials of both parties to improve the effectiveness of government.

“A diverse workforce produces better results for organizations,” Stier said. In government, that’s both “a performance issue and a representation issue,” he added, since citizens in a democracy have a reasonable expectation that the experiences and perspectives of their diverse communities will be reflected in their leaders.

“The government has come some distance, but it still has a fair ways to go” to reflect the diversity of the U.S. population, Stier said. That’s especially true in the upper ranks of the civil service, which remains predominantly white, the Partnership’s statistics show.

Administrations can directly shape the roughly 4,000 political appointments they fill, ranging from Cabinet secretaries down to relatively low-level staff jobs — a number that has doubled since the 1960s and which Stier believes is now far too large.

Diversifying the much larger civil service is a longer-term process since the ranks turn over much more slowly than political appointees, which change with each administration. Most federal agency workforces, however, have grown more diverse in the last couple of decades.

That reflects, in part, the changing politics of diversity.

On the Democratic side, diversity has risen in importance to the party’s voters. That’s not as true on the Republican side.

Indeed, as polarization has hardened between the parties, especially on issues of identity, a backlash constituency has developed among a significant share of Republicans.

In a major survey last fall, the nonpartisan Public Religion Research Institute found that majorities of Americans agreed that there is a lot of discrimination against Black people (75%), Latinos (69%), and Asian Americans (55%).

Among Republicans, however, that was a much less widely held view. About half of Republicans, 52%, said Black people are subject to a lot of discrimination in the U.S. while even fewer said so regarding Latinos, 45%, or Asian Americans, 32%.

A larger share of Republicans said they saw a lot of discrimination against white people, 57%, or Christians, 62%.

On gender issues, that survey found 60% of Republicans said that society too often punishes men just for acting like men, and 63% said that American society had become too feminine. Only about one-third of self-identified independents and one-quarter of Democrats held that view.

“While there are huge positives of greater diversity, to some people that can be seen as a threat to their power” or the status of their group in society, Dittmar said, and that sort of backlash can have an impact.

The fact that the number of women in senior positions fell off after Clinton’s second term “demonstrates that progress is not inevitable.”

Biden’s first news conference

The president held his first formal news conference on Thursday, and as Chris Megerian wrote, it provided a glimpse of post-COVID challenges, as the pandemic, which has dominated news coverage for a year, went almost without mention after Biden’s opening statement.

If you want a quick refresher, here are five takeaways from Biden’s news conference.

The topic that dominated the questioning was the situation on the border. Earlier this week, Biden announced that Vice President Kamala Harris will lead the administration’s diplomatic response to migrant issues. That reprised a role which Biden filled in the Obama administration, but as Noah Bierman, Megerian and I wrote, it hands Harris a politically complex problem to deal with.

Ahead of the news conference, Megerian looked at Biden’s new verbal discipline, a change for a politician known for garrulousness during much of his career.

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Investigating the Capitol riot

The Justice Department alleged in a court filing this week that the Oath Keepers militia and the Proud Boys coordinated plans for the assault on the Capitol. As Del Wilber reported, that’s a further sign of the expanding nature of the investigation into the assault and could presage broader charges.

As more defendants are brought into court, judges have been banning some Capitol suspects from the internet, Evan Halper wrote. Those moves raise 1st Amendment questions that are “uncharted waters,” legal experts said.

In a related issue, lawmakers at a hearing this week warned Google, Facebook and Twitter: More regulation is coming.

Voting rights

Georgia this week became the first state to pass new voting restrictions this year. It likely won’t be the last. As Erin Logan wrote, Republicans in dozens of states are pushing voting restrictions.

The latest from Washington

Alex Padilla is California’s first Latino senator. Sarah Wire talked with him and looked at the issue he has focused on so far — immigration reform. Can he break Washington’s gridlock?

The Supreme Court expanded the meaning of “seizure” under the 4th Amendment in a decision this week, David Savage wrote. The case saw a split in the court’s conservative bloc, with Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh joining the three liberals in the majority.

The new cold war with China could be a good thing, Doyle McManus wrote in his column.

The latest from California

National Republicans have gone all in on the Gavin Newsom recall, Mark Barabak wrote: They’re doing the governor a big favor. In the heavily Democratic state, one of Newsom’s main strategies is to depict the recall as a partisan issue.

The state Supreme Court issued a major ruling that limits the use of cash bail to detain defendants who don’t have the money to post bond, as Maura Dolan wrote.

“The common practice of conditioning freedom solely on whether an arrestee can afford bail is unconstitutional” under the California Constitution, Justice Mariano-Florentino Cuéllar wrote for the unanimous court. Judges must consider a defendant’s ability to pay when setting bail amounts, the court said.

Stay in touch

Send your comments, suggestions and news tips to politics@latimes.com. If you like this newsletter, tell your friends to sign up.

Until next time, keep track of all the developments in national politics and the Trump administration on our Politics page and on Twitter at @latimespolitics.

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Beijing huddles with friends, seeks to fracture U.S.-led ‘clique’

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By Gabriel Crossley and Yew Lun Tian

BEIJING (Reuters) – China is shoring up ties with autocratic partners like Russia and Iran, as well as economically dependent regional countries, while using sanctions and threats to try to fracture the alliances the United States is building against it.

Worryingly for Beijing, diplomats and analysts say, the Biden administration has got other democracies to toughen up to a rising, more globally assertive China on human rights and regional security issues like the disputed South China Sea.

“China has always resolutely opposed the U.S. side engaging in bloc politics along ideological lines, and ganging up to form anti-China cliques,” the Chinese foreign ministry said in a statement to Reuters.

“We hope relevant countries see clearly their own interests…and are not reduced to being anti-China tools of the U.S.”

After last month’s stormy talks between top U.S. and Chinese diplomats in Anchorage, Beijing also appeared to engage more urgently with countries like Russia, Iran and North Korea, which are also on the wrong end of U.S.-led sanctions.

COLD COMFORT

“China is very worried about U.S. alliance diplomacy,” said Li Mingjiang, associate professor at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore, pointing to what he calls attempts to “huddle for warmth” with governments shunned by the West.

Days after the Alaska meeting, the Chinese government’s top diplomat, State Councillor Wang Yi, received Russia’s foreign minister Sergei Lavrov, who called for Moscow and Beijing to push back against what he called the West’s ideological agenda.

A week later, Wang flew to Iran and signed a 25-year economic pact, which Renmin University professor Shi Yinhong said “effectively exposes every Chinese company participating to direct or indirect U.S. sanctions.”

President Xi Jinping, meanwhile, exchanged messages with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, calling for a deeper partnership with another country whose ambitions for nuclear arms has drawn sanctions.

China is also wooing its economically dependent neighbours. Wang hosted foreign ministers from Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and South Korea in China’s southeastern Fujian province in recent weeks.

Li said Beijing will be holding out promises to help these countries revive their economies after the COVID-19 pandemic, making them think twice about siding with the United States.

After Philippines diplomats and generals accused China of sending militia-manned vessels into their waters, President Rodrigo Duterte said he was not going to let territorial disputes in the South China Sea get in the way of working with China on vaccines and economic recovery.

BUILDING BLOCS

Biden has continued to pressure Beijing on many of the same issues the Trump administration did, but with a more alliance-focused strategy.

At a meeting between Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga on Friday, the two countries presented a united front against China’s assertiveness, on issues ranging from the disputed East China Sea islands known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China, to rights issues in China’s Hong Kong and Xinjiang region.

Last month, the United States, the European Union, Britain and Canada imposed coordinated sanctions over reports of forced labour in China’s western Xinjiang region, while over a dozen countries jointly accused China of withholding information from an investigation into the origin of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Germany, Britain, the Netherlands, Canada and France all recently joined the United States in sending warships through the disputed South China Sea, or announced plans to do so.

Washington also said it wants a “coordinated approach” with allies on whether to participate in the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, amid concerns over human rights violations, particularly related to the treatment of Uighurs and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang.

BREAKING THE ‘CLIQUE’

China has responded angrily to shows of unity by Washington’s allies, with its diplomats dubbing Japan a “vassal” and Canada‘s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau a “running dog” of the United States.

China’s strategy to weaken this unity revolves around encouraging U.S. allies to engage independently with Beijing, and put the economic benefits first, while punishing them if they engage in joint-action against China.

Beijing responded to the EU’s sanctions of Chinese officials over Xinjiang with disproportionately harsh counter-sanctions, analysts said, potentially torpedoing a long-awaited investment agreement.

Janka Oertel, director of the Asia Programme at the European Council on Foreign Relations, believes Beijing is prepared to sacrifice economic benefits for core interests if they are threatened by the U.S.-EU alliance.

Xi drove home the message in a recent phone call with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, telling her that he hoped “the EU will make a correct judgment on its independence”.

But China still needs European technology and investment, said Joerg Wuttke, president of the European Chamber of Commerce in China.

“They still talk to us, despite the sanctions, business keeps going, and that’s very reassuring.”

Beijing has not given up persuading Washington that cooperation is better than competition, as demonstrated last week when it assured U.S. climate envoy John Kerry of support for Biden’s virtual climate summit this week.

“China hopes Washington can appreciate that it is in U.S. interests to have China as a friend rather than as a foe,” said Wang Wen, a professor at the Chongyang Institute of the Renmin University of China.

 

(Reporting by Gabriel Crossley and Yew Lun Tian; Editing by Tony Munroe & Simon Cameron-Moore)

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Prince Philip took a keen interest in Canada, but stayed above politics, former GGs and PM say

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When former Canadian prime minister Jean Chrétien met the late Prince Philip for the first time, he told him that for an Englishman, his French was very good.

“He said ‘I’m not English and I’ve spoken French since before you were born,’” Chrétien told the Star Friday, commenting on his many encounters over 50 years with the Duke of Edinburgh.

“He was not dull, let me put it that way,” Chrétien said. “He had some strong views. Sometimes he had to show discipline to not speak up more than he would have wished.”

Philip, born in Greece in 1921 and husband to Queen Elizabeth II for over 73 years, died at the age of 99 on Friday.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who said he first met Philip when he was a little boy, described him as “a man of great purpose and conviction, who was motivated by a sense of duty to others.”

Former prime ministers and governors general spoke of a man who understood his role and knew not to get involved in politics, but who was very knowledgeable about Canada and took a keen interest in the country’s success.

“I was always impressed by their knowledge,” Chrétien said of Philip and the Queen, Canada’s head of state.

He said he can recall Philip asking about the prospect of Quebec separating from the rest of the country. “Not in a very political fashion, just in terms of interest. Of course he was interested to not see Canada break up. He would certainly say that to me.”

 

Statements from former prime ministers Paul Martin and Stephen Harper highlighted Philip’s devotion to the Canadian armed forces and charitable organizations, as well as the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, an international self-development program for young people.

Former governors general David Johnston and Michaëlle Jean, through their role as the Queen’s representative in Canada, were also able to get to know Philip more intimately, particularly at the Queen’s Balmoral Castle estate in Scotland.

Jean recalls being “overwhelmed” by all the protocol recommendations ahead of a Balmoral visit with her husband and six-year-old daughter prior to taking office in 2005, only to find Philip and the Queen greeting them at the door, with Philip paying special attention to her daughter.

“The memory I keep of Prince Philip is that of an affable, caring, elegant and warm man,” Jean told the Star, adding he was a man who was very attentive to detail.

She recalled attending a barbecue on the Balmoral estate, just the four of them, and Philip telling her, “Don’t forget to congratulate Her Majesty for her salad dressing, because she made it herself.”

What Jean also saw was a man sometimes hampered by the limitations of his role, like when he talked about one of his favourite topics, the environment.

“He said ‘I do a lot about it, I raise awareness, I take actions…I feel that whatever I do, no one cares,’” Jean recounted. “What I got from that is how lonely he felt…There was a sense of not feeling appreciated in proportion to his contributions, a feeling of being misunderstood.”

Johnston, who succeeded Jean, said Canada’s constitutional monarchy — where the head of state is politically neutral and separate from elected office — is an “important and precious” form of government, and Philip was key to making it work.

Philip showed leadership as a servant, Johnston said, “not taking centre stage, but by ensuring that the Queen and the monarchy were front row and centre.

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“He played such an important structural role, and did that with great diligence and commitment. He was selfless in that respect,” Johnston said in an interview.

For Matthew Rowe, who works on the Royal Family’s charitable endeavours in Canada, the Duke of Edinburgh’s political value to Canada was precisely that he was not political — that he, along with the rest of the monarchy, provided a stabilizing force outside of the partisan fray.

He was dynamic, irascible, exasperating, intriguing. And he was always three steps behind his wife, Queen Elizabeth, who utterly adored him throughout their 73-year marriage, flaws, faux pas and all.

“His presence, and the role of Her Majesty and other members of the Royal Family, has been to be able to represent the nation, to represent Canadian interests, and commemorate Canadian achievements without being tied to a particular political ideology or regional faction,” Rowe, who met Philip at a ceremony at Rideau Hall in 2010, said in an interview.

 

Philip’s role meant he could speak more frankly than the Queen in public, and spoke “quite thoughtfully” about the constitutional monarchy in Canada, said University of Toronto history instructor Carolyn Harris.

At a press conference in Ottawa in 1969, Philip famously said that the monarchy doesn’t exist “in the interests of the monarch…It exists solely in the interest of the people. We don’t come here for our health. We can think of other ways of enjoying ourselves.”

Philip had a good, joking relationship with Johnston’s wife, Sharon. He recounted how the two joined the Queen and Prince Philip at Balmoral in August 2010, prior to Johnston’s swearing-in later that year.

One evening, they were returning to the castle from a barbecue at a renovated shepherd’s hut on the estate — just the four of them, the Queen driving with Johnston in one land rover, and Philip driving with Sharon in the other ahead of them on narrow, highland roads.

“We were coming home at about 10 p.m., as black as could be, he and Sharon were ahead, kind of weaving, and we could hear these gales of laughter coming out. They were cracking jokes at one another,” Johnston said.

“I had a vision of him going over the edge and down half a mile into the valley, and my first thought is: Do the Queen and I rustle down to rescue them?”

Chrétien said “it must be terrible” for the Queen to now find herself alone after a marriage that lasted for more than 70 years. He noted it’s been almost seven months to the day since he lost his wife, Aline.

 

“It’s a big change in life but she’s an extremely courageous person and she will face the situation with the strength that she has been able to show to the world for the almost 70 years she’s been queen,” Chrétien said.

With files from Alex Boutilier and Kieran Leavitt

 

 

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After warning, McConnell softens posture on corporations’ taking political stances

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Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., softened his stance on corporations’ getting involved in politics Wednesday, a day after he warned companies not to weigh in on hot button issues.

“I didn’t say that very artfully yesterday. They’re certainly entitled to be involved in politics. They are,” McConnell told reporters. “My principal complaint is they didn’t read the darn bill.

“They got intimidated into adopting an interpretation … given by the Georgia Democrats in order to help get their way,” he said.

McConnell was referring to a controversial voting law recently passed in Georgia, which came about in the aftermath of former President Donald Trump’s campaign of falsehoods about the election result in the state last fall.

The law led the CEOs of Delta and Coca-Cola — which are based in Atlanta — to condemn the measure. And last week, Major League Baseball pulled this year’s All-Star Game out of Atlanta in protest. The game will, instead, be played in Colorado.

In recent weeks, McConnell has excoriated corporate America for boycotting states over various GOP-led bills. He said Tuesday that it is “stupid” for corporations to take positions on divisive political issues but noted that his criticism did not extend to their donations.

“So my warning, if you will, to corporate America is to stay out of politics,” McConnell said in Louisville, Kentucky. “It’s not what you’re designed for. And don’t be intimidated by the left into taking up causes that put you right in the middle of one of America’s greatest political debates.”

Major League Baseball’s decision drew the most outrage from Republicans, as Trump called for a boycott of baseball and other companies that spoke out against the Georgia law. McConnell said Tuesday that the latest moves are “irritating one hell of a lot of Republican fans.”

McConnell, long a champion of big money in politics, however, noted Tuesday that corporations “have a right to participate in a political process” but said they should do so without alienating “an awful lot of people.”

“I’m not talking about political contributions,” he said. “I’m talking about taking a position on a highly incendiary issue like this and punishing a community or a state because you don’t like a particular law that passed. I just think it’s stupid.”

Source:- NBC News

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