After Joe Biden's Education Pick, a Push From Democrats to Get a Latina in Cabinet

After Joe Biden did as he said he would in nominating a "teacher" to be the next secretary of education, Hispanic Democrats and grassroots leaders have one more ask of him: a Latina to round out his quickly filling cabinet.

Biden on Wednesday introduced Dr. Miguel Cardona, a former fourth-grade teacher, the youngest principal in Connecticut, and the first Latino to serve as the state's education commissioner, making him the third Puerto Rican ever to serve in a presidential cabinet.

Cardona has advocated for reopening schools, arguing that the closures are harming children, and one of his challenges will be working with state and local officials to accomplish that goal safely as the coronavirus pandemic rages.

He joins Alejandro Mayorkas, the Department of Homeland Security nominee, and Xavier Becerra, the pick to lead the Health and Human Services Department, as Latinos chosen by Biden to lead major agencies in his incoming administration.

But Democrats and Latino leaders say there is one more pick they would like to see before the inauguration on January 20.

"Miguel Cardona is a visionary, humble and experienced educator who will lead the Department of Education toward excellence," Representative Joaquin Castro (D-Texas), the chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, told Newsweek before his flight home for the holiday. "We will continue to push for a Latina to serve in President Biden's cabinet. The transition team is aware of many talented and well-qualified Latinas for various cabinet posts."

The push for a Latina to be among the final cabinet selections is not merely a numbers game or an effort to check a box, but a drive to have the cabinet reflect the diversity of the country, which is lacking during most administrations, those who spoke to Newsweek said.

The transition team is said to be considering Latinas for the roles that remain, with groups like Latino Victory Fund, which works to elect Latino Democrats, among those who have shared names with the transition.

Nathalie Rayes, the president of Latino Victory, said her group is encouraged by the three nominations so far, not just because they represent influential agencies, but also because the choices of a Cuban-American, a Mexican-American and a teacher of Puerto Rican descent bring regional and ethnic diversity to the cabinet.

There is one aspect of diversity and inclusion missing, however.

"We have full confidence the cabinet will be diverse, and gender diversity is very important," Rayes said. "I'm not surprised they're looking at Latinas for different positions."

An initiative launched in the wake of Biden's projected election win in November called Proyecto 20%, is a push to ensure 20 percent of the 4,000 jobs in the new administration will reflect the population of Latinos in the country, and was started by Mi Familia Vota, UnidosUS and the Hispanic Federation.

I, being bilingual and bicultural, am as American as apple pie and rice and beans.
Dr. Miguel Cardona, secretary of education nominee

Hector Sanchez Barba, the executive director of Mi Familia Vota, who worked on a campaign to advance the labor rights of Latinas, told Newsweek his study found they are critical to the workforce of the nation, but also the most vulnerable workers in the country, experiencing the highest level of wage theft and sexual harassment in the workplace, particularly undocumented women.

"Having Latinas in the most important spaces of this administration will open the doors we need for opportunity in the future," he said, especially when they were "central in this election, overwhelmingly voting and mobilizing against Trump, while also serving as some of the most important essential workers in the nation."

On MSNBC with Tiffany Cross on Monday, UnidosUS President Janet Murguia said the Commerce Department, which oversees the Census and ensures every person is counted, along with the Small Business Administration, are two possibilities where a Latina cabinet member could lead.

"For us it's going to be very important in the Hispanic community to see a Latina in the cabinet," she said on the Cross Connection.

For his part, Cardona in his speech Wednesday drew a line between starting his education able to speak only Spanish, to how his background informs the leader he wants to be for all of the nation's parents and students.

"I, being bilingual and bicultural, am as American as apple pie and rice and beans," he said.

Miguel Cardona
Dr. Miguel Cardona, U.S. President-Elect Joe Biden's nominee for education secretary, speaks during an event announcing his nomination at The Queen in Wilmington, Delaware, on December 23, 2020. Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty