Newt Gingrich, a top adviser to Donald Trump, says the president-elect’s Cabinet choices have heartened his supporters, and he believes they are likely to sail to confirmation. But he has a caveat.
“There has to be more Hispanics in the administration,” Gingrich said in an interview on Wednesday. “I’ve been having conversations with them about it.”
As Trump has rolled out his Cabinet, no position that requires Senate confirmation has been given to a Latino, breaking with the last four presidents. Ronald Reagan was the first president to name a Hispanic to a Cabinet post, when he picked Lauro Cavazos in 1988 to be his education secretary in 1988.
And for Trump, there’s not much space left at the top of his incoming administration. Only three Cabinet-level positions are unfilled — secretary of veterans affairs, agriculture secretary, and the U.S. trade representative.
The concerns about the lack of Hispanic representation are sharp amid changing demographics in the country and a divisive campaign stoked by Trump’s promise to build a wall along the Mexican border and his characterization of undocumented Mexican immigrants as “murders and rapists.”
The U.S. Hispanic population is about 57 million, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, making the group the country’s largest minority population and a crucial voting force for future Republican leaders who can’t rely on the large turnout of white men that helped seal Trump’s victory.
The National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials said that if Trump doesn’t pick a Latino on his cabinet, it would “mark an historic and alarming step backwards.”
“Picking a Cabinet member would be a way to bring Latinos who didn’t support him into the fold. He’s going to need them in two years. Republicans are going to need them going forward,” said Bill Richardson, a Hispanic who served as Bill Clinton’s energy secretary, in an interview on Wednesday. “He seems to not be worried about expanding his base.”
Trump’s team appears to be cognizant of the concerns. On Monday, Trump met with Luis Quinones, a member of his Hispanic Advisory Council and Jovita Carranza, a former deputy administrator of the Small Business Administration. His transition officials say a Democrat or Hispanic could be picked for one of the remaining slots.
Transition spokesperson Jason Miller notably said during a call with reporters on Tuesday that Carranza was a candidate for the U.S. trade representative position.
“We’ll have folks from all backgrounds from nominee, appointee to staff level,” Miller added during a brief interview on Wednesday.
Gingrich said he’s confident that there will be a hefty representation of Hispanics in Trump’s administration, but noted it may not be at the very top level.
“I think you’ll see more in deputy slots and other high positions,” Gingrich said. “They are actively looking and interviewing Hispanic participation in the administration. They are determined to do that.”
Some Trump aides such as senior advisor Steve Bannon and transition finance chair Anthony Scaramucci see appointing FOX News host Kimberly Guilfoyle, who is half-Puerto Rican, as press secretary as an answer to the Hispanic issue. They are pushing for her to take the top press job over Sean Spicer, who has been lead spokesperson for the campaign and is seen as the favorite for the job, according to sources familiar with the matter.
“There are no Hispanics appointed in the administration and no one in the cabinet,” said a transition source who is an advocate for Guilfoyle. “[Trump] has the opportunity to do it now but he’s dragging his feet on it.”
Richardson said Trump also likely faced a shortage of talent who supported him and wanted to join the administration.
“No established Republican Hispanic endorsed him,” he said. “So there’s not many people to pick from. You take the top Latino leaders. A lot of them endorsed Hillary. He doesn’t have a lot of options. These people weren’t with him. And now he’s not going to pick him.”
Trump’s overall Cabinet picks have heartened many conservatives, who say he has shown a commitment to shaking up the status quo, reducing the size of the government and cutting regulations. People familiar with his thinking say he prizes people who are decisive, have shown success in the business world and are willing to take on the establishment.
A number of his picks have previously vowed to take an aggressive stance toward the federal departments they have vowed to lead, including Rick Perry as energy secretary, Betsy DeVos as education secretary, and Scott Pruitt as head of the Environmental Protection Agency.
“The teachers union will go crazy over DeVos,” Gingrich said. “Sierra Club will go crazy over EPA. But in the end, you’ll probably only have the socialist left that will be against his people. These people are winners. He was looking for the best person in every individual position.”
Liberal groups have raised concerns about the number of wealthy, anti-establishment types who have promised to take on the government they are charged to lead. More than 85 percent of Trump’s top transition advisers are white. Trump also hasn’t picked a Democrat, unlike most of his predecessors, who chose a Cabinet member from the opposing party. Trump has picked Ben Carson to lead Housing and Urban Development, the only black member of his Cabinet.
“I feel like I’m living in a dream and he’s just mocking us,” said Pili Tobar, the advocacy and communications director of the Latino Victory Fund.
Alberto Gonzales, the highest-ranking Hispanic government official to date as George W. Bush’s attorney general, said he would like to see Trump pick a Hispanic for his Cabinet. But he said he understood that the president also needed to pick people who can carry out his policies, and that Cabinet picks are “personal.”
“Some presidents also view it as important to have a cabinet that reflects America and how society looks. I happen to think personally that your goals can be achieved through a diverse Cabinet,” he said in an interview.
Gonzales said, though, too much was made of the ethnic makeup and that some Hispanics were “heartened by the difference in tone” from Trump since being elected.
“What are the policies that are going to come out of this administration?” he said. “The Hispanic community is going to care more about the policies than the makeup. The actual policy decisions will have the greatest impact on the lives of Americans.”
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