Pressure for diversity weighs on Biden’s Labor secretary decision

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President-elect Joe Biden is considering nominating Boston Mayor Marty Walsh to lead the Labor Department, but concerns over diversity have delayed a final decision and could ultimately lead him to choose another candidate, five people familiar with the deliberations told POLITICO.

Biden has a long personal relationship with Walsh, who spent decades as a union member and leader, most recently as head of Boston’s Building and Construction Trades Council. Walsh has won support from a number of prominent union leaders — most notably AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, who leads the nation’s largest labor organization — and his nomination could appeal to construction workers who supported President Donald Trump.

But Walsh is a white man. And although Biden has already nominated the most diverse Cabinet in history, some groups are pushing for more representation among the five Cabinet posts that remain unfilled.

The Asian American and Pacific Islander community, for example, is urging Biden to nominate an AAPI candidate at the Secretary-level, a designation that remains for only three open positions — atop the Labor, Commerce and Justice Departments.

Instead of Walsh as Labor secretary, AAPI lawmakers and groups are advocating for Julie Su, California’s labor secretary, to get the nod. The Congressional Black Caucus PAC, meanwhile, is pushing for Patrick Gaspard, a former ambassador to South Africa under President Barack Obama who recently resigned as president of George Soros’ Open Society Foundations.

Rep. Andy Levin (D-Mich.) has also made a play for the job, but the narrow Democratic House majority, which is poised to shrink even more if Reps. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio) and Deb Haaland (D-N.M.) are confirmed to the Cabinet, has made him a long shot for the post. And Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has expressed interest in the position.

As for Biden, “he definitely wants Marty Walsh,” one of the people said. But, the person added, “he’s sensitive to the diversity concerns.”

Given those considerations, Labor secretary may be the last Cabinet position to be announced, the people familiar said. The Biden transition team declined to comment.

Walsh has hinted he would run for a third term as Boston’s mayor, but he has yet to officially announce another bid. Already, he has two primary challengers — City Councilors Michelle Wu and Andrea Campbell, both of whom are women of color.

Union leaders expect to have influence in a Biden administration, given the president-elect’s longtime support for union organizing and his sweeping pro-worker agenda. But the labor movement has been divided over who it wants to see in the Labor secretary position, with Levin and Su each picking up endorsements even after Trumka and other prominent leaders threw their weight behind Walsh.

Some union officials and organizers have lamented that the failure to coalesce behind a single candidate for the job has muted organized labor’s voice in the deliberations, making it nearly impossible for Biden to choose a nominee that would satisfy all sides. But Trumka said in an interview last month that unions will unify behind whomever Biden chooses.

Walsh’s backers highlight his deep ties to organized labor, which are stronger than many other candidates in contention.

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said she is backing Walsh because of his work in the labor movement and his “ability to move an agenda very quickly.”

“Diversity is important, and both people like Patrick Gaspard and Julie Su are terrific,” she said. “But I’ve been supporting Marty Walsh because of his history and his experience and the need for workers to know that they have a seat at the Biden table. And that seat has agency.”

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