WASHINGTON – The head of the N.A.A.C.P. had a blunt warning for President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. when Mr Biden met with civil rights leaders in Wilmington this week.
The nomination of Tom Vilsack, a former Agriculture Secretary in the Obama administration, to re-head the department would anger black farmers and threaten Democratic hopes of winning two runoffs in the Georgia Senate, Derrick Johnson told Biden.
“Former Secretary Vilsack could have a catastrophic impact on voters in Georgia,” Johnson warned, according to an audio recording of the meeting obtained from The Intercept. Mr Johnson said Mr Vilsack’s sudden dismissal of a popular undeclared officer in 2010 was still too raw for many undeclared farmers, despite Mr. Vilsack’s subsequent apology and offer to reinstate them.
Mr. Biden immediately ignored the warning. Within hours, his decision to appoint Mr. Vilsack to head the Department of Agriculture had been leaked and angered the very activists he had just met.
The episode was just part of a concerted campaign by activists demanding that the president-elect keep his promise that his government “will look like America.” At their meeting, Mr. Johnson and the group also asked Mr. Biden to appoint a black attorney general and to designate a White House citizen a “Tsar.”
The pressure is on the Democratic-elected president, even if his efforts to ensure ethnic and gender diversity are well beyond those of President Trump, who did not prioritize diversity and often chose his top officials for what they looked like. And it comes from all sides.
When Mr. Biden nominated the first black man to run the Pentagon this week, women cried badly. L.G.B.T.Q. Proponents are disappointed that Mr. Biden has not yet appointed a prominent member of their ward to his cabinet. Latino and Asian groups fish for some of the same jobs.
Allies of the president-elect discover that he has already made history. In addition to appointing retired General Lloyd J. Austin III as the first black Secretary of Defense, he has selected a Cuban immigrant to head the Department of Homeland Security, the first female Treasury Secretary, a black woman in Housing and Urban Development, and the son of Mexican immigrants as secretary for health and human services.
But the introduction of Mr. Biden’s cabinet and the White House picks has created fear among many elements of the party. While some say he appears to be handicapped by pressure groups, others point out that his earliest decisions included four white men who are close confidants to serve as chief of staff, secretary of state, national security advisor, and his top political adviser, leading the way Leaves impression that Mr. Biden planned to rely on the same cadre of aides he had had for years.
“Added consternation,” said a Washington advocacy chairman of Mr. Biden’s initial decisions.
Glynda C. Carr, president of Higher Heights for America, a political action committee dedicated to the election of progressive black women, said it was a feeling of defeat that Mr Biden, as a group, had not given black women key jobs in his cabinet had hoped.
Susan Rice, a black woman who was the United Nations Ambassador and National Security Advisor to the Obama administration, was considered a candidate for Secretary of State. Instead, she will become director of Mr. Biden’s Home Affairs Council, a position that does not require Senate endorsement. Ohio representative Marcia L. Fudge, another black woman, was nominated as Secretary of Agriculture for which she and her allies had been pushing for Secretary of Housing and Urban Development.
Both government and agricultural jobs went to white men instead.
“For me, I would certainly want Susan Rice to be on the team instead of not on the team,” Ms. Carr said, but it was “disappointing” to see Ms. Rice in a position that wasn’t cabinet level. “We have to keep pushing,” she added.
Women’s groups were also disappointed with Mr. Biden’s decision to select General Austin as Secretary of Defense to replace Michèle Flournoy, a long-time senior Pentagon official who has been the leading candidate for the job for months.
It didn’t help Mr Biden’s case with women that he also selected Xavier Becerra, California’s attorney general, as secretary for health and human resources to New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham, who was selected as the likely candidate for the job just days before she was was passed over.
General Austin’s election didn’t convince civil rights activists like Rev. Al Sharpton, either, who firmly believes the need for a black attorney general, or at least someone with a background in voting rights enforcement.
In an interview following his meeting with Mr Biden, Mr Sharpton was open about when he would feel satisfied that the president-elect had kept his promise of diversity.
“If we can get a real attorney general with a credible background on civil rights and voting enforcement,” he said. “If we get a credible person with a real background in work and education I would be ready to say that I am ready to accept some setbacks or setbacks” in other positions.
Mr Sharpton was also clear about whom he would not accept. He said black activists would not support a position for Rahm Emanuel, the former chief of staff to President Barack Obama, whose heir as mayor of Chicago he convicted of Emanuel’s handling of the 2014 murder of Laquan McDonald, a black teenager, a police officer.
Other activists are equally determined to prevent the president-elect from nominating people they consider too conservative and shy to face racial injustices or who are too closely connected to the corporate world.
This month, a group of over 70 environmental law groups wrote to the Biden transition team urging the president-elect not to appoint Mary Nichols, California’s climate change regulator and one of the country’s most experienced climate protection officials, to lead the Environmental Protection Agency.
“We would like to draw your attention to Ms. Nichols’ dire track record in combating environmental racism,” the groups wrote, saying she promoted California’s cap and trade program to reduce greenhouse gases at the expense of local pollutants that are disproportionately affected Minority communities.
The transition of the president
People on the verge of transition say Ms. Nichols may get the job on Heather McTeer Toney, a regional E.P.A. Administrator in the Obama administration who is a top choice of liberal activists and would be the second black woman to run the agency.
Adam Green, founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, said liberal organizations were largely satisfied with some of Mr. Biden’s recommendations, including Ron Klain, one of his longtime advisers, as chief of staff and Janet L. Yellen, a former Federal Reserve chairman, treasury secretary to be.
But he said Mr. Biden had not selected a progressive movement champion, adding, “Those at the top of the spear are not in the greatest positions yet.”
And candidates like Mr Vilsack, who Mr Green has been accused of having too many connections with large agricultural companies, are a disappointment, he said.
“Agriculture offers so many opportunities, especially if we want to make a profit in the Midwest,” he said. But that would require a secretary willing to “fight big farming for family farmers”.
As Mr. Biden ponders his election as Secretary of the Interior, a coalition of Democrats, Native Americans, Liberal activists and Hollywood celebrities are pushing him to replace Senator Tom Udall, Democrat of New Mexico, with Representative Deb Haaland of New Mexico, an Indian woman appoint and a longtime friend of Mr. Biden.
On Thursday evening a group of liberal activists, including the Sunrise Movement, one of the best-known groups on the left, wrote to white Mr Udall asking him to get out of the running for a job his father Stewart L. Udall had among the Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson.
“It would not be right for two Udalls to head the Home Office in charge of the administration of public land, natural resources and the land’s trusting responsibilities to tribes in front of a single Native American,” they wrote.
On Capitol Hill, progressive Democratic lawmakers like New York City Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez reserve judgment on Mr Biden’s decisions.
“I think one of the things I look for when I see all of these tips put together is what is the agenda?” she told reporters.
During his meeting with the activists, Mr Biden resisted the idea that his nominations suggest that he is not pursuing a progressive agenda.
“I don’t have a stamp on my head that says,” I’m progressive and I’m A.O.C. “” said Mr Biden, referring to Mrs Ocasio-Cortez. “But I have more records of how you get things done in the United States Congress than anyone else you know.”
The comments reflect what people familiar with Mr. Biden’s thinking are saying is his growing frustration with the public and private print campaigns.
However, promises to stakeholders during his campaign are not forgotten.
Alphonso David, president of the Human Rights Campaign, a group dedicated to advancing the interests of L.G.B.T.Q. Community said Mr Biden assured him months ago that an L.G.B.T.Q. A person would be appointed to a cabinet-level position that requires Senate approval – something that never happened.
“This is an important barrier to breaking. We need to make sure that all communities are represented, ”said David. Like other activists, Mr David was reluctant to judge Mr Biden until he had finished selecting his cabinet.
“It’s too early to say,” he said. But he added a warning that Mr Biden has heard all too often over the past few days.
“If we don’t have the variety of representation that Joe Biden has promised and that we are looking for,” he said, “there will be a big disappointment.”
Yet the President-elect’s defenders are just as direct.
“He selected the first woman and the first black vice president. First Minister of Finance. First Black Secretary of Defense, ”said Philippe Reines, a veteran Democratic agent and former top adviser to Hillary Clinton. “But if you can’t trust Joe Biden to keep doing the right thing and trying to choose the cabinet, you should do what he did: run for the presidency and win.”
Luke Broadwater, Coral Davenport, Lisa Friedman and Katie luck Contribution to reporting.