As President-elect Donald Trump’s cabinet selections have begun intense Senate confirmation hearings, his transition team is reportedly looking to add a Latino amid criticism about his administration’s lack of diversity.
So far, Trump has not chosen a Latino to serve in his Cabinet — which would be the first time since Ronald Reagan’s second term. Trump is “desperately” seeking one to fill the remaining vacant position, the Secretary of Agriculture.
Many Latino leaders say while the absence of a Hispanic is concerning, they also worry Trump’s rhetoric could bring a hostile administration.
“The President-elect campaigned on the most anti-immigrant platform of any successful presidential candidate in over five decades,” said Hector Sanchez, National Hispanic Leadership Agenda (NHLA) Chair and Executive Director of the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement.
“If he truly wants to represent all of America, Mr. Trump has a lot of ground to make up for in his outreach to Latinos.”
“That Mr. Trump’s Cabinet picks thus far include no Latinos is not a surprise and only further underscores the pattern we witnessed during his campaign,” he noted.
Activists say some of those concerns include the stripping of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program — an executive order authorized by President Barack Obama, which shields thousands of undocumented immigrants, considered DREAMers, from deportation — and the building of the U.S.-Mexico border.
Trump has bashed Mexicans as “rapists” and “criminals” while insulting other groups. He made building the wall a central issue of his campaign to target immigrants from entering the U.S. and has said Mexico would pay for it.
Despite those sentiments, other Latino leaders see an opportunity to work with Trump.
Javier Palomarez, president and CEO of the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (USHCC) and adviser on Trump’s national diversity coalition, told the Daily News that Trump is open to working with the Latino community, and is currently “taking a long hard look” at former California Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado as a top contender to head the agricultural department.
“I’m backing Abel because he’s the best American choice for the job,” Palomarez said. “He happens to be Latino, proudly so. That’s the added cherry on top of the sundae.”
If Trump doesn’t pick a Latino, Palomarez says he wouldn’t peg the decision as racially motivated.
The National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO), raised concerns about the Trump administration’s lack of diversity by deeming it as a “historic and alarming step backward for America.”
“The absence of any Latino at the highest level of his administration does not do anything to make up for the concerns that Latinos have on what the President-elect expressed as a candidate,” NALEO’s Executive Director Arturo Vargas, told The News.
Vargas, Palomarez, Sanchez and representatives from other Latino groups met with the President-elect’s team Tuesday.
Although he did not disclose what was discussed in the meeting, Vargas said it was a “first step to engaging the leadership of the Latino community with the Trump administration.”
“There’s more to be done in order for the Latino community to feel that its priorities are being considered,” Vargas said.
NALEO has also backed Maldonado in a recent statement, while Trump considers non-Latino’s for the agriculture role.
Maldonado and Elsa Murano, a former U.S. agriculture undersecretary for food safety under George W. Bush, a Cuban-American, met with Trump at his Mar-a-Lago estate in late December to discuss the agriculture position, according to Politico.
Former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue’s name has also been floated as a potential agriculture candidate, as well as Idaho Gov. Butch Otter and Texas agriculture commissioner Sid Miller.
Maldonado, a Mexican-American who comes from an immigrant family, grew up in California picking strawberries and vegetables on his family’s farm. He also co-owns Runway Vineyards with his daughter.
It’s Maldonado’s deep agricultural roots and business skills that have caught Trump’s attention, Palomarez says.
Trump approached him after Election Day seeking his recommendation for potential candidates and had even offered him a cabinet slot in his administration. But he instead opted to serve as an adviser while focusing on USHCC.
“I will provide my advice and counsel when called upon,” he said.
But even if a Latino is chosen, Trump’s Cabinet will fall short of the diversity of past administrations.
Obama’s current Cabinet members include Housing Urban and Development Secretary Julián Castro and Labor Secretary Thomas Perez. Past members include former Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and former Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis, who became the first Latina to serve in a U.S. presidential Cabinet.
George H.W. Bush had two Latinos Cabinet members, Bill Clinton appointed three and George W. Bush had three as well.
Texas Democrat Lauro Cavazos became the nation’s first Latino Cabinet member when President Ronald Reagan appointed him as Education Secretary in 1988. He went on to serve two more years under George H.W. Bush’s administration.
A staunch Hillary Clinton supporter during her campaign and notable Trump critic, Palomarez — who called Trump a “payaso,” “a complete clown” on MSNBC in September — says he’s hopeful Trump would make a selection representative of America and the Latino community.
“I’m proud of my culture, and I would love to see members of Trump’s Cabinet who are Hispanic,” Palomarez said, who is Mexican-American. “But he has a job to do, and we’re going to hold him to a certain standard.”
Cabinet-level nominees who splash a bit of color in Trump’s White House are Gov. Nikki Haley (R- S.C.), an Indian-American, as U.N. Ambassador position, HUD Secretary nominee, Ben Carson, who is black, and Transportation Secretary pick, Elaine Chao, who is Taiwanese-American.
A Trump spokesperson in the past had said the President-elect’s team would be “very broad and diverse, both with the Cabinet and the administration.”