If you visit this blog much, you probably know how much I hate the whole idea of identity politics not to mention the organizations enriching themselves around the concept. But there were two appointments worth mentioning yesterday that people are filing under the rubric of identity politics, an injustice to the two excellent candidates, Rob Bonta and Rachel Levine.
Biden nominated Dr. Levine to be assistant secretary for health and she made history today as the first openly transgender woman confirmed by the Senate to a federal position. The Republicans, of course, filibustered the nomination. Only two Republicans broke with them to shut down the bigoted filibuster-- Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski. Later when the final vote was taken, she was confirmed 52-48, the same 2 Republicans breaking from the homophobic pack. What monsters McConnell and his caucus are!
The Times' Sheryl Gay Stolberg described the debate over the confirmation as "contentious" and "a flash point in the battle over transgender rights."
Dr. Levine, a pediatrician and former health secretary in Pennsylvania, will assume her post at the federal Health and Human Services Department at a challenging time, just as Mr. Biden is trying to lead the country out of the coronavirus crisis.
In a statement shared with the New York Times, Dr. Levine said she was “humbled” by the Senate’s approval and thanked the L.G.B.T.Q. community for its support.
“As Vice President Harris has said, I recognize that I may be the first, but am heartened by the knowledge that I will not be the last,” she wrote. “When I assume this position, I will stand on the shoulders of those who came before-- people we know throughout history and those whose names we will never know because they were forced to live and work in the shadows.”
She said she wanted to address transgender youth in particular.
“I know that each and every day you confront many difficult challenges,” she wrote. “Sadly, some of the challenges you face are from people who would seek to use your identity and circumstance as a weapon. It hurts. I know. I cannot promise you that these attacks will immediately cease, but I will do everything I can to support you and advocate for you.”
At her confirmation hearing before the Senate Health Committee, Dr. Levine was the subject of a tirade by Senator Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky, who likened sex reassignment surgery to “genital mutilation” and demanded to know whether she supported such procedures for minors.
Her response-- that transgender medicine is “a very complex and nuanced field with robust research and standards of care”-- drew plaudits from Democrats who praised her for maintaining her calm, but criticism from conservatives who accused her of being evasive.
In a recent interview, Roger Severino, a champion of social conservative causes who ran the Health and Human Services Department’s civil rights office under President Donald J. Trump and met with Dr. Levine when considering whether to roll back transgender protections, called her a “divisive pick that goes contrary to President Biden’s promise of unity.”
But advocates for the L.G.B.T.Q. community were elated on Wednesday.
“At a time when hateful politicians are weaponizing trans lives for their own perceived political gain, Dr. Levine’s confirmation lends focus to the contributions trans people make to our nation and deflates absurd arguments calling for their exclusion,” said Annise Parker, a former mayor of Houston who now runs the L.G.B.T.Q. Victory Institute, which trains L.G.B.T.Q. people to run for public office.
The contest to replace Levine's new boss, HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra as Attorney General was competitive and not contentious. Gavin Newsom made the right choice, appointing East Bay Assemblyman Rob Bonta, a Filipino-American progressive advocate of criminal justice reform. "The son of civil rights activists, Mr. Bonta, 48, was born in the Philippines and will be the first Filipino-American to hold the office," wrote Shawn Hubler. "He grew up in California’s Central Valley, where his parents helped organize farm workers before moving to the Sacramento area. Mr. Bonta, who called the appointment 'an honor of a lifetime,' is a graduate of Yale University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in history and his law degree. A former San Francisco deputy city attorney, Mr. Bonta served briefly on the Alameda City Council before running for the State Assembly, where he has represented the East Bay since 2012. As a legislator, he carried bills to eliminate the use of cash bail-- a measure that the state’s voters overturned in November-- and to phase out California’s use of private prisons. He also was among numerous co-authors of an unsuccessful constitutional amendment to repeal the death penalty.
Mr. Bonta will be the state’s second Asian-American attorney general, after Vice President Kamala Harris, who is of Jamaican and Indian descent. Progressives and organized labor play a critical role in mobilizing Democratic voters in California, and no state’s population except Hawaii’s has a higher percentage of Asian-Americans, who make up about 16 percent.
The nomination is subject to confirmation by the state’s Assembly and Senate within 90 days.
...[T]he attorney general vacancy was less a political plum than an opportunity to disappoint factions. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had urged Mr. Newsom to appoint Representative Adam Schiff, who has long aspired to statewide office, and who, as chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, managed Mr. Trump’s first impeachment. Mr. Newsom also was urged by various groups to name an African-American, a woman, a member of the L.G.B.T.Q. community, another Latino or an Asian-American or Pacific Islander.
Supporters of other candidates noted that Mr. Newsom had already made history with several appointments: In November, he appointed Martin Jenkins, who is African-American and openly gay, to the California Supreme Court. In December, as Ms. Harris was about to be inaugurated, he named California’s secretary of state, Alex Padilla, to serve the remainder of her term in the U.S. Senate, the first Latino in California history to hold that office.
Later the same day, he appointed Shirley Weber, who represented San Diego in the State Assembly, as California’s first African-American secretary of state.
Mr. Bonta, who has never campaigned outside the Bay Area, will have to run statewide in two years for re-election, as will the governor’s appointees for Senate and secretary of state and the governor himself, if he is not recalled in special election expected later this year.
State ethics watchdogs last year also questioned Mr. Bonta’s use of a nonprofit to raise money for other nonprofits where his wife worked-- an aggressive but legal maneuver that prompted an author of California’s Political Reform Act to recommend a change in the state law.
A group of lawmakers and local elected officials renewed their push for Mr. Newsom to appoint an Asian-American or Pacific Islander to the post following last week’s shooting in Atlanta. They said that amid a rise in anti-Asian violence and harassment, the state’s “top cop” should understand the nuances and concerns of diverse communities, many members of whom may not trust law enforcement officers.
California, they said, should be a model for addressing those concerns.
“We need leadership across our state and the nation to take action,” David Chiu, a member of the Assembly, said in a virtual news conference. “We need to stand up against these hate crimes.”