A member of President Trump’s transition team argued to a roomful of black executives and activists that the new administration has just as many black Cabinet members as former president Barack Obama had at the start of his first term — one.
Elroy Sailor, a longtime African American strategist for the Republican Party, said he urged his Democratic and progressive friends to challenge Obama when he tapped Eric H. Holder Jr. to be attorney general and the only black member of his Cabinet.
“I went to my Democratic friends and I said, as a black conservative, if we don’t make this an issue now, it’s going to guarantee my party the license to say ‘We’re just going to pick the best person,’ ” Sailor said during a panel discussion as part of AT&T’s Black History Month forum.
Jamal Simmons, a Democratic political consultant who moderated the discussion, noted that Obama had appointed African Americans to the positions of U.S. trade representative and administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency.
But Sailor countered that those were not traditional Cabinet posts. Some members of the audience, which in addition to AT&T employees included representatives from civil rights groups such as the NAACP and the Black Women’s Roundtable, also argued that Obama’s first Cabinet also included more women, Asians and Hispanics.
Trump’s sole black Cabinet nominee is Ben Carson, a former pediatric neurosurgeon, to head the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Of the 21 Cabinet-level picks for the new administration, four are women, two of them Asian Americans, and 16 are white males.
The 21 individuals who filled Obama’s Cabinet-level positions included seven women, three Asian Americans, three African Americans and two Hispanics.
The discussion took place at AT&T’s annual luncheon named for Lewis Howard Latimer, a 19th-century African American inventor and draftsman. He worked for Alexander Graham Bell and drafted the drawings for Bell’s telephone. Other speakers included veteran civil rights leaders the Rev. Jesse Jackson and the Rev. Al Sharpton; Marc Morial, director of the National Urban League; media entrepreneur Keith Clinkscale; and Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-La.), chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus.
Sailor said that the new administration and Congress are planning to take on a range of issues that could help improve the lives of African Americans, including more support for historically black colleges and universities, criminal justice revisions and a massive infrastructure improvement plan.
Carson would have a major role in helping to make sure that infrastructure spending goes to poor, largely minority urban areas, Sailor said. He said that although Carson “does not have government experience, Dr. Carson has Trump’s ear and Dr. Carson wants to make a difference. He can bring in smart people around him.”
Although all of the Cabinet posts have been filled, Sailor said he and other black Republicans are coming up with names of individuals who can fill other positions in the administration, including sub-Cabinet and director positions, as well as spots on boards and commissions.
Despite murmurs from the audience, Sailor stuck by his argument that Obama’s Cabinet choices in 2008 set a precedent for Republican presidents.
Simmons joked that Obama’s appointment of Holder as the first African American attorney general “is worth three Cabinet positions.”
Sailor reiterated: “As a black conservative it made my job a little harder. It really did.”
“You have a hard job, brother,” a woman in the audience quipped, prompting laughter.