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House Democrats adopt caucus rule to encourage diverse hiring

Caucus rule adopted Monday encourages Democratic offices to identify and interview diverse applicants for staff vacancies

Tony Cárdenas standing in front of a window
Rep. Tony Cárdenas told his colleagues while the Congress was diverse, the staff needed to be as well. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

House Democrats on Monday adopted a new caucus rule to encourage diverse hiring — a moment of self-reflection as the nation confronts racial inequities.

The caucus diversity rule, adopted during Democrats’ regular Monday conference call, says that congressional offices should “to the extent practicable” work with the House Diversity and Inclusion Office, congressional staff associations and outside
stakeholder groups to identify and interview diverse applicants for staff vacancies.

The Diversity and Inclusion Office was created under the broader House rules package Democrats adopted upon taking the majority at the start of the 116th Congress last January. But it was more than a year later that Speaker Nancy Pelosi named someone to lead the office.

Pelosi announced in March that Kemba Hendrix, who had been serving as director of the House Democratic Diversity Initiative, would serve as director of the new House office, which is meant to help both Democratic and Republican congressional offices improve the recruitment, retention and development of a diverse workforce.

Democrats have long talked about adopting internal caucus rules to further improve diversity among staff. The national reckoning over racial inequalities seemed to put the issue back on the front burner.

“As Americans continue to educate themselves about systemic injustice and how our nation has failed whole populations of its citizens, it is time the United States Congress and the Democratic Party take an honest look at our own shortcomings,” Rep. Tony Cárdenas, D-Calif., wrote in a “Dear Colleague” letter Monday before the conference call. “While it is true that we have the most diverse Congress in American history, when it comes to diversity in our staff recruitment, hiring, and retention practices in our offices, leadership teams, and committee staff, we are failing.”

Cárdenas, who co-chairs a Congressional Hispanic Caucus task force on diversity, cited data from the Joint Center of Political and Economic Studies finding that more than eight out of 10 chiefs of staff, legislative directors and communications directors in the 115th Congress were white, and that only 152 of the 1,110 senior staff were people of color.

Pelosi, Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries of New York and Rep. Grace Meng of New York, who chairs a committee on caucus procedures, issued a joint statement Monday after the caucus adopted the diversity rule.

“One of our caucus’s top priorities has long been to promote diversity at every level of Congress, so that these halls better reflect the dynamism and vibrancy of the American people whom we are privileged to represent,” they said. “This Diversity Rule is another key step toward ensuring that our Congressional community will be more inclusive, diverse, open and representative of the full range of voices and values of our communities.”

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