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Biden Appoints Erika Moritsugu To Asian American Liaison Role

The Biden administration on Wednesday named Erika Moritsugu as deputy assistant to the president and Asian American and Pacific Islander senior liaison.

The announcement of the new role comes after weeks of pressure from Democratic Sens. Tammy Duckworth from Illinois and Mazie Hirono of Hawaii, who confronted White House officials about the lack of AAPI representation in key cabinet and senior level positions.

Together, they threatened to vote no on any non-diverse nominee that came to the Senate. But Hirono, who is of Japanese descent, and Duckworth, who is Thai American, changed their positions after Biden pledged to add the senior liaison position now filled by Moritsugu.

"Moritsugu will bring her experience and expertise to the Biden-Harris Administration where she will be a vital voice to advance the President and the Administration's priorities," the White House said in a statement.

Duckworth praised Moritsugu's appointment, saying, "I applaud President Biden for swiftly addressing my concerns and creating a new senior-level AAPI liaison position at the White House."

"I know first-hand that President Biden will benefit from her counsel, policy expertise and strong relationship-building skills, especially as his Administration seeks to make sure AAPI leaders are present at the highest levels of government," she said, adding that Moritsugu's experience makes her uniquely qualified for the role.

Moritsugu, who served as the general counsel for Duckworth, was a vice president at the National Partnership for Women & Families, leading the organization's economic justice and congressional relations teams. Previously, she was an assistant secretary at the Department of Housing and Urban Development during the Obama administration.

The absence of AAPI representation in the Biden-Harris administration — which said it would establish the most diverse Cabinet in history — has come under renewed scrutiny following a year-long spike in violence targeting those same communities across the country. The uptick has been attributed by some to former President Trump's rhetoric around the coronavirus pandemic.

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Vanessa Romo is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She covers breaking news on a wide range of topics, weighing in daily on everything from immigration and the treatment of migrant children, to a war-crimes trial where a witness claimed he was the actual killer, to an alleged sex cult. She has also covered the occasional cat-clinging-to-the-hood-of-a-car story.