Dec. 3 (Bloomberg) — Bill Richardson’s nomination as Commerce secretary won’t satisfy top Latino lawmakers, who sent President-elect Barack Obama’s transition office a letter yesterday afternoon recommending a slate of 14 Hispanics for the remaining eight Cabinet slots.
“We’d definitely be disappointed,” if Richardson, 61, a former energy secretary and United Nations ambassador, were the lone Latino in Obama’s Cabinet, said California Representative Joe Baca, the chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. He warned that Obama’s legislative agenda could be jeopardized if the president-elect doesn’t nominate additional Hispanics.
“If it’s just one, he’s going to have to answer to a lot of the issues that come before us,” Baca said in an interview.
There could be one more appointment soon. Two Democrats close to Obama’s transition office said that Representative Xavier Becerra, a California Democrat, has been offered the job of U.S. trade representative. The two Democrats didn’t say Becerra, 50, will accept the post.
Obama’s victories in New Mexico, Colorado and Nevada, all states carried by President George W. Bush in 2004, was “in large measure because of Hispanic support,” said Representative Charles Gonzalez, a Texas Democrat. Election-day exit polls of Latinos gave Obama a 2-to-1 advantage on Nov. 4.
Obama is expected to announce Richardson’s selection today in Chicago, a Democratic official said.
Becerra, who once declared U.S. trade policy was “broken completely,” would take part in global trade talks, negotiate with China on product-safety issues and possibly renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement.
The Hispanic Caucus letter recommends Colorado Representative John Salazar for agriculture secretary, Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrion for Housing and Urban Development secretary and Texas Assemblyman Rick Noriega for veterans’ affairs secretary, among others.
Baca described the letter, sent to transition director John Podesta, as the “the beginning of demonstrating that we are ones to be reckoned with and not to be taken lightly.” Baca and Gonzalez signed the letter on behalf of the 21-member caucus.
Richardson is the highest-profile Latino elected official in the U.S. Before being elected as governor of New Mexico in 2002 and winning a second term in 2006, he served in two Cabinet positions in President Bill Clinton’s administration and eight terms in the U.S. House.
Richardson ended his own bid for the Democratic presidential nomination in January and later endorsed Obama, calling him a “once-in-a-lifetime leader” who can unite the country. That move was a rebuke to Hillary Clinton, and her husband publicly lashed out at Richardson at the time.
For several weeks, Baca and Gonzalez led a group of 10 lawmakers to create a list for Obama’s transition team, which was approved by a required two-thirds of the caucus members.
“We understand that the incoming administration will have a vast pool of talent from which to choose,” wrote Baca and Gonzalez. “The individuals we have endorsed constitute the best talent, while reflecting the diversity that is so valued by President-elect Obama.”
Baca expects Obama to improve upon the two Hispanics that Presidents Clinton and Bush had in their Cabinets. “We’ll start with two and then work for three,” he said. “But it’s got to be more than what we’ve had.”
Bush, Clinton Picks
Bush began his first term with Mel Martinez serving as Housing and Urban Development secretary and Alberto Gonzales as his White House counsel. In his second term, Bush promoted Gonzales to attorney general and had Carlos Gutierrez as his commerce secretary.
Clinton started off with Henry Cisneros at HUD and Federico Pena as transportation secretary and then later as his energy secretary, until Pena was replaced by Richardson.
Gonzalez said he was “confident” that Obama will select additional Hispanics for his Cabinet, insisting that “the process is still in play.” He cheered the choices of Louis Caldera to head the White House Military Affairs Office and Cecilia Munoz as White House director of intergovernmental affairs.
Other Latino lawmakers, while insisting that Hispanics deserved credit for the Democrats’ victory, said they weren’t focused on Obama’s final Cabinet tally. Representative Linda Sanchez, who left the Congressional Hispanic Caucus in 2006 but was still recommended the group as a potential labor secretary, said “for me it’s not a numbers game.”
She criticized Baca for “speaking a little hastily,” in setting down firm demands that Obama appoint more than two Hispanics. Baca is “very strident and he’s very passionate,” about wanting to ensconce Hispanics in influential positions.
Republicans, meanwhile, had their own criticism of the Richardson pick. “Nothing says change like picking the Clinton administration’s energy secretary and UN representative to be commerce secretary,” said Alex Conant, a spokesman at the Republican National Committee.
Obama already has tapped top officials from the Clinton administration, including former Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers to be his White House economic director, former Treasury official Timothy Geithner as his Treasury secretary, and Illinois Representative Rahm Emanuel, who was a special adviser to Bill Clinton, as his chief of staff. Obama also picked Hillary Clinton to be his secretary of state.
“Obama’s Cabinet is starting to look like a Clinton administration reunion,” Conant said.