President-elect Donald Trump, who repeatedly lashed out at Mexican immigrants during the campaign, is scrambling to appoint a Hispanic official to serve in his Cabinet amid criticism that his incoming administration lacks diversity at the highest levels.
The search has intensified in recent days, and sources within the transition say that officials are determined to have a Hispanic in a prominent role. According to a transition official, Trump has narrowed his focus to agriculture secretary as the best possibility of the few remaining openings, which also include veterans affairs and the U.S. trade representative.
Trump met Wednesday with two Hispanic politicians at his resort Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach to discuss the possibility of taking on the agriculture post: Dr. Elsa Murano, a former U.S. agriculture undersecretary for food safety, who is Cuban-American, and Abel Maldonado, a Mexican-American who is a former California lieutenant governor and co-owner of Runway Vineyards.
“I can tell you now I have spoken to numerous folks on the transition and they say that he’s absolutely looking for qualified Latinos for a cabinet post,” said Mario Rodgriguez, head of the Latino PAC Hispanic 100. Rodriguez, who sits on Trump’s Hispanic advisory committee, said transition officials have asked him for recommendations and they gave him positive feedback about Trump’s prior meetings with Hispanic candidates.
“I think some appointments are going to be pretty quick. President-elect Trump was very impressed by the candidates. He wants to put a Latino in the cabinet, he’s not doing it just for show.”
But the candidates for the agriculture department have generated complaints from farmers who supported Trump during the campaign. Members of an agricultural advisory group Trump formed — largely Republican farm-state governors, agriculture officials and agribusiness leaders — say they want him to appoint a farm insider to head the agency and will feel slighted if he instead chooses a candidate based on political considerations.
Hispanics are the largest minority population in the United States with 57 million citizens, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Since Ronald Reagan’s second term, a Hispanic has always served in a Presidential cabinet.
The National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials had said that it would be a “alarming step backwards” if Trump passed over a Latino for a top job in the administration.
The call to increase diversity is coming from Trump allies as well. Newt Gingrich, a top adviser, said in an interview last week that while he supported the appointments that have been made, “there has to be more Hispanics in the administration.”
One top donor said members of the transition are so eager to interview non-white officials, they have reached out to candidates who are part-Latino and have no experience in agriculture. “They’re desperate to find a Latino for agriculture,” this person said.
Yet he has also taken to doing things his own way and seems less concerned with presidential traditions and precedents than other occupants of the White House.
Many Hispanic leaders say they are less concerned about having a Cabinet pick than what Trump’s policies could mean, particularly with deportation and a wall along the Mexican border. These people say picking a Hispanic Cabinet member for agriculture could be seen as a token with little real value and liken Trump naming his only black Cabinet member to lead Housing and Urban Development.
“I’m not sure even if it’s someone he picked a Latino that the person would care about what we are thinking about and looking for,” said Pili Tobar, communications director for the Latino Victory Fund.
Unlike other cabinet candidates, Trump’s communications team has been upfront about the roles his Hispanic visitors are competing for. A transition official touted on the daily morning press call on Tuesday that Maldonado “comes from three generations of farming and has strong roots in the agriculture industry of California.”
His spokesperson Jason Miller notably said on a call last Tuesday that Jovita Carranza, a former deputy administrator of the Small Business Administration and member of his Hispanic Advisory Council was a candidate for the U.S. trade representative position.
In an interview Wednesday, Carranza said she wasn’t currently having conversations with the Trump team about a job, but had discussed a “number of issues” with Trump outside of trade when meeting with him earlier this month.
She said he wanted to know how a number of his proposals would affect the Hispanic community.
“We’re all patiently awaiting to see the entire selection of his cabinet. It’s a little premature to say it’s done,” she said. “I don’t like to get boxed in to say we need so many Hispanics, we need so many blacks, we need so many Asians. He cares about success and the experience a person has had in a field. He wants someone who has been successful and
is a known entity.”
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