They include a number of Indian-American appointments and for the first time ever two Kashmiri women, in what has been touted as the ‘most diverse’ cabinet in US history.
As President-elect Joe Biden gets set for inauguration on January 20, his cabinet has been popularly touted as the “most diverse ever in history” and one that “looks like America,” on the heels of the vanilla-hued and testosterone-filled administration that dominated the Trump era.
Biden’s running mate Kamala Harris, who is half Black and half Indian, will become the first ever woman to be sworn in as Vice President on Wednesday.
Harris is not the only high-ranking member of Biden’s cabinet to be drawn from minority communities. In addition to a Black man heading the Pentagon, a Latino homeland security chief, Native American cabinet secretary and an openly gay Transport Secretary, it has been stocked with a sizeable number of Indian-American appointments and Muslims as well.
For Indian-Americans alone there have been at least 20 nominees or appointees, 13 of which are women.
Two of them with top positions are Neera Tanden and Dr Vivek Murthy.
Tanden, a contentious Twitter user and head of the Democrat-leaning think tank Center for American Progress, has been nominated as Director of the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB).
Dr Murthy was nominated as US Surgeon General, reprising the role he held during the Obama administration. Murthy, who has been the co-chair of Biden’s Covid-19 advisory board, is expected to play an important role in acting as the “top medical expert and public face of the [pandemic] effort.”
For the first time ever are hires of two Indian-Americans who trace their origins to Kashmir: Aisha Shah and Sameera Fazili.
Shah was named as partnership Manager at the White House Office of Digital Strategy. Meanwhile, community and economic development expert Fazili has been pegged to occupy the position of Deputy Director at the US National Economic Council (NEC). Fazili had previously served as a senior policy advisor on the White House’s NEC and as a senior advisor at the US Treasury Department.
Congratulations to Kashmir-born #AishaShah & @sameerafazili. #SameeraFazili joins @JoeBiden & @KamalaHarris team as Deputy Director of National Economic Council and #AisiaShah joins as a Partnerships Manager in @WhiteHouse digital team. 👏🏽 pic.twitter.com/oMJwU6LEnp— Abdul Basit Khan (@abdulbasitkhan_) January 17, 2021
News of Fazili’s appointment sparked celebrations amongst her extended family back in Srinagar. Rouf Fazili, Sameera’s uncle, called it a “proud moment” for Kashmir, saying that while she was not born there and her parents left the Valley in the early 1970s, she retains “a strong affinity with Kashmir”.
The NEC has another Indian American, Bharat Ramamurti, former economic advisor to Senator Elizabeth Warren’s 2020 presidential campaign and who will also be taking up the role of Deputy Director.
Veteran diplomat Uzra Zeya is billed as the Under Secretary of State for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights. A key adviser to the Obama administration during the Arab Spring, Zeya had previously served a post in Delhi.
For the first time in any US administration will be the presence of non-Indian South Asians too.
Pakistani-American Ali Zaidi is set to be Deputy National Climate Advisor; Sri Lankan-American Rohini Kosoglu is Domestic Policy Advisor to the Vice President; and Bangladeshi-American Zayn Siddique is tabbed to be White House Deputy Chief of Staff.
As Biden’s first Arab-American pick, Reema Dodin was named as Deputy Director of the White House Office of Legislative Affairs back in November. A groundbreaking selection as a Palestinian Muslim woman, Dodin brings 15-years of seasoned political experience to the Biden camp.
The all-important National Security Council (NSC) has also received three Indian-American hires: Tarun Chhabra as Senior Director for Technology and National Security, Sumona Guha as Senior Director for South Asia, and Shanthi Kalathil as Coordinator for Democracy and Human Rights.
Among Biden’s inner circle, Vinay Reddy has been named as Director of Speechwriting after serving as senior advisor and speechwriter for the Biden-Harris campaign.
Vedant Patel is set to occupy a seat as Assistant Press Secretary to the President, and is the third-ever Indian American to be part of the White House press corps.
Civil rights attorney Vanita Gupta was nominated as Associate Attorney General at the Department of Justice.
The future First Lady Dr Jill Biden’s team includes three South Asian women: Mala Adiga appointed as Policy Director and Garima Verma would be the Digital Director to the Office of the First Lady, while Sabrina Singh has been named as her Deputy Press Secretary.
Biden repeatedly made it a point that he planned to have a government which reflected the diversity of the country, or have to deal with a political fallout if he didn’t uphold a pledge that is increasingly important to Democratic supporters.
"This cabinet will be more representative of the American people than any other cabinet in history," Mr Biden told reporters back in December, highlighting his "precedent-busting nominations" to date.
During his campaign, Biden indicated that he would enlist South Asian Americans, and Indians in particular: “As President, I’ll also continue to rely on Indian-American diaspora, that keeps our two nations together, as I have throughout my career,” he said during an address to the Indian-American community during India’s independence day last year.
Biden had additionally vowed to add Muslims to his cabinet during a webinar to Muslim-American voters in July.
On his first day in office, Biden plans to issue a number of executive orders, including one rescinding the controversial travel ban on several predominantly Muslim countries.