Demo­cratic Se­nate staffing is over­whelm­ingly white, di­ver­sity re­port finds

The Washington Post Sunday - - POLITICS & THE NATION - BY ED O’KEEFE

Peo­ple work­ing for Demo­cratic sen­a­tors are over­whelm­ingly white and mostly women, ac­cord­ing to a first-of-its-kind re­port on di­ver­sity in some con­gres­sional of­fices.

The cur­rent Congress is the most di­verse in his­tory, with more mi­nor­ity law­mak­ers than ever be­fore and a record 21 women in the Se­nate. But a cadre of cur­rent and for­mer con­gres­sional staffers, lob­by­ists and party donors have been pres­sur­ing con­gres­sional lead­ers — es­pe­cially Democrats — to in­ten­sify the search for mi­nori­ties to fill jobs on Capi­tol Hill and in dis­trict of­fices na­tion­wide.

Re­spond­ing to the pres­sure, Se­nate Mi­nor­ity Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) re­leased a re­port Fri­day that con­firms what staffers and out­side ob­servers have long be­lieved: De­spite hav­ing 16 women in the cau­cus and more mi­nor­ity sen­a­tors than ever, Demo­cratic Se­nate staffing is over­whelm­ingly white.

Thirty-two per­cent of staffers are “non-Cau­casian,” de­fined as African Amer­i­can, Asian/Pa­cific Is­lander, Latino, Na­tive Amer­i­can or Mid­dle Eastern/North African, ac­cord­ing to the re­port. Fifty-four per­cent of staffers are women, 46 per­cent are men.

The re­port “con­firms what we’ve all known for some time — that there is a sig­nif­i­cant di­ver­sity prob­lem that can­not be al­lowed to con­tinue in the most rep­re­sen­ta­tive branch of our gov­ern­ment,” said Don Bell, di­rec­tor of the Black Tal­ent Ini­tia­tive at the Joint Cen­ter for Po­lit­i­cal and Eco­nomic Stud­ies, a group that has been study­ing con­gres­sional staffing is­sues for years. He called on other House and Se­nate lead­ers “to fol­low suit and be­gin col­lect­ing this vi­tal in­for­ma­tion.”

Across the Se­nate Demo­cratic staff, 13 per­cent are African Amer­i­can, roughly on par with the na­tional per­cent­age; 10 per­cent are Latino, be­hind the roughly 17 per­cent na­tion­ally; 8 per­cent are Asian-Pa­cific, ahead of the na­tional per­cent­age; 4 per­cent are Na­tive Amer­i­can; and 3 per­cent are Mid­dle Eastern/ North African. (Some staffers chose more than one cat­e­gory.)

“As we con­tinue the full-court press to make the Se­nate a more di­verse place, this sur­vey will be im­por­tant to help us track our progress,” Schumer said in a state­ment an­nounc­ing the re­port’s re­lease. “The more di­verse the Se­nate is, the bet­ter it can serve our di­verse coun­try.”

House and Se­nate Repub­li­cans do not pub­licly re­port data on staffing gen­der and eth­nic­ity and de­clined re­quests in the past when asked by The Wash­ing­ton Post. House Mi­nor­ity Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) also has in­ten­si­fied her cau­cus’s push to hire more mi­nori­ties, and a com­mit­tee of Demo­cratic law­mak­ers is con­sid­er­ing op­tions sim­i­lar to what Schumer has adopted.

Schumer’s re­port mir­rors sim­i­lar sur­veys con­ducted by the Of­fice of Per­son­nel Man­age­ment for ex­ec­u­tive branch em­ploy­ees that ask work­ers to self-re­port gen­der, eth­nic­ity and other char­ac­ter­is­tics. About 94 per­cent of the roughly 2,800 peo­ple who work for Demo­cratic sen­a­tors re­sponded to the sur­vey, ac­cord­ing to Schumer’s of­fice.

The re­port “is a ma­jor step in the right di­rec­tion, but we have a lot of work to do,” said Dar­rel Thompson, a for­mer deputy chief of staff to for­mer Se­nate ma­jor­ity leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.), who is now with The Group, a gov­ern­ment re­la­tions firm. Thompson helped Reid es­tab­lish the Se­nate Demo­cratic di­ver­sity of­fice that helps re­cruit and place mi­nor­ity job ap­pli­cants.

Among in­di­vid­ual Demo­cratic sen­a­tors, the staff of Brian Schatz (Hawaii) ranks the most di­verse, with 66 per­cent of his em­ploy­ees iden­ti­fy­ing as mi­nor­ity, most of them as Asian or Pa­cific Is­lander, the re­port said. Sens. Ka­mala D. Har­ris (Calif.) and Mazie Hirono (Hawaii) rank sec­ond at 61 per­cent, fol­lowed by Sens. Cory Booker (N.J.) at 57 per­cent, Chris Van Hollen (Md.) at 54 per­cent and Tom Udall (N.M.) at 52 per­cent.

Cristina An­telo, a prin­ci­pal at the Podesta Group and for­mer Demo­cratic Se­nate staffer and cur­rent vice chair­man of the non­par­ti­san Con­gres­sional His­panic Cau­cus In­sti­tute, noted that 43 per­cent of Udall’s staff is Latino, the most of any sen­a­tor, prob­a­bly be­cause his chief of staff, Bianca Or­tiz-Wertheim, is one of only two His­panic women hold­ing that role in the Se­nate.

“When you have some­one like that in a po­si­tion like chief of staff, it makes a dif­fer­ence,” she said.

On the flip side, Sen. Jon Tester (Mont.) has the least di­verse staff at 7 per­cent, fol­lowed by Sens. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) at 9 per­cent and Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.) at 10 per­cent. All three Democrats rep­re­sent over­whelm­ingly ru­ral and white states.

Over­all, “there are a bunch of of­fices who have num­bers that are re­flec­tive of their states that I’m ac­tu­ally happy to see,” An­telo said.

Francisco Ben­cosme, pres­i­dent of the Con­gres­sional His­panic Staff As­so­ci­a­tion and a Se­nate For­eign Re­la­tions Com­mit­tee staffer, called Schumer’s de­ci­sion to re­lease the re­port “sig­nif­i­cant” be­cause it helps es­tab­lish a marker for fu­ture years. He said his group will be work­ing with of­fices that have low per­cent­ages of mi­nor­ity work­ers to help iden­tify job can­di­dates.

On gen­der, Sens. Michael F. Ben­net (Colo.) and Bill Nel­son (Fla.) em­ploy the most women, with 66 per­cent each. The Demo­cratic fe­male sen­a­tor with the high­est per­cent­age of fe­male em­ploy­ees is Sen. Jeanne Sha­heen (N.H.) at 65 per­cent. Sen. Robert Me­nen­dez (N.J.) em­ploys the high­est per­cent­age of men at 60 per­cent.

The re­port also ac­counts for the di­ver­sity of pro­fes­sional com­mit­tee staffs. One hun­dred per­cent of Demo­cratic staffers on the In­dian Af­fairs Com­mit­tee are mi­nor­ity — 60 per­cent are Na­tive Amer­i­cans, the re­port said. Staffs for the com­mit­tees on Ap­pro­pri­a­tions (5 per­cent), Agri­cul­ture (7 per­cent) and Bank­ing (8 per­cent) are the least di­verse.

“I think the com­mit­tees have some work to do,” An­telo said, adding that it’s “con­cern­ing” that sev­eral com­mit­tees lack any Asian, African Amer­i­can or Latino staffers.

Schumer agreed to com­pile the data ear­lier this year af­ter meet­ing with lead­ers of Asian, African Amer­i­can and Latino con­gres­sional staffing as­so­ci­a­tions. He also agreed to ex­pand the di­ver­sity of­fice and asked Demo­cratic sen­a­tors to adopt the “Rooney Rule,” an NFL hir­ing prac­tice that re­quires pro foot­ball teams to in­ter­view at least one mi­nor­ity ap­pli­cant for head coach­ing and other se­nior team po­si­tions. In the case of sen­a­tors, Schumer asked that at least one mi­nor­ity ap­pli­cant be in­ter­viewed for ev­ery staff open­ing. Pelosi re­cently asked House Democrats to adopt the same pol­icy.

Some Demo­cratic staffers ex­pressed sur­prise Fri­day that Schumer opted to pub­lish the re­port, but its pub­li­ca­tion — and that it was con­ducted at all — fol­lows sev­eral years of pres­sure from Asian and Latino con­gres­sional staff as­so­ci­a­tions. In re­cent years, lob­by­ists and Demo­cratic donors who are Asian, African Amer­i­can and Latino have pres­sured Schumer, Pelosi and other party lead­ers to in­crease mi­nor­ity hir­ing and pub­licly re­lease the num­bers to hold law­mak­ers to ac­count.

The is­sue earned wider at­ten­tion when mi­nor­ity staffers be­gan cir­cu­lat­ing New York Daily News col­umns by civil rights ac­tivist and writer Shaun King, who used es­says to call out Democrats for fail­ing to pro­mote mi­nori­ties to se­nior po­si­tions.

“Democrats in the Se­nate have their own prob­lems with big­otry,” King wrote in Jan­uary, not­ing that the only two black chiefs of staff worked for Repub­li­can sen­a­tors, Tim Scott (S.C.), who is black, and Jerry Mo­ran (Kan.). Jonathan Burks, chief of staff to House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.), is also black.

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