WASHINGTON (AP) — Deflecting criticism about a perceived lack of diversity in his second-term Cabinet, President Barack Obama on Monday urged Americans not to rush to judgment about who he will appoint to replace departing members of his team.
In a declaration tinged with the rhetoric of his re-election campaign, Obama asserted: “We’re not going backwards, we’re going forward.”
Scrutiny has been mounting over the number of women and minorities that will surround the nation’s first black president in his second term. Cabinet members who are departing at the end of his first term — including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton — are being replaced largely by white males. But in the final White House news conference of his first term, Obama brushed off that criticism, asking for critics to hold their tongues until the remaining vacancies have been filled.
“I’m very proud that in the first four years, we had as diverse, if not a more diverse, White House and a Cabinet than any in history,” Obama said. “I intended to continue that, because it turns out when you look for the very best people, given the incredible diversity of this country, you’re going to end up with a diverse staff.”
Running through a list of high-profile positions filled by women during his first term — such as Clinton and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius — Obama said women comprised 50 percent of his White House staff during his first four years, not to mention the two women he nominated to fill Supreme Court vacancies.
Still, Obama’s appeal for patience was unlikely to quell the concerns of members of his own party who have publicly fretted whether Obama’s Cabinet and the tight cadre of advisers who will have his ear over the next four years will end up almost entirely male and white, in stark contrast to the diverse coalition of women, Hispanics and minorities that helped give Obama a second term.
“It’s as embarrassing as hell,” Rep. Charlie Rangel, D-N.Y., one of the longest-serving African-American members of Congress, said last week.