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Biden nominates Julie Su as his first Asian American cabinet secretary

Joe Biden and Julie Su

Calling her “the American dream”, Joe Biden on Wednesday introduced his nominee to lead the US labor department, Julie Su, who if confirmed will become the first Asian American cabinet secretary in his administration.

“Julie is the American dream,” the president said in a White House ceremony.

Su is a civil rights attorney and a former head of the California labor department. Biden noted how both her parents came to the US from China, her mother holding a union job and her father owning a small business.

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“I think even more importantly, she’s committed to making sure that dream is within reach of every American,” Biden said.

In her own remarks to lawmakers and officials, Su said: “Sixty years ago, my mom came to the United States on a cargo ship because she couldn’t afford a passenger ticket.

“Recently, she got a call from the president of the United States telling her that her daughter was going to be nominated to be US labor secretary.”

Noting that a union job gave her parents a path to the middle class, eventually leading her to college at Stanford and law school at Harvard, Su said: “I believe in the transformative power of America, and I know the transformative power of a good job.”

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Lawmakers have pressured Biden for not having any cabinet secretaries of Asian American or Pacific Islander (AAPI) descent, though the parents of the US trade representative, Katherine Tai, grew up in Taiwan and the mother of the vice-president, Kamala Harris, was Indian.

In a nod to that pressure, Biden opened Wednesday’s ceremony by remarking: “If in fact you were not picked to be the next secretary of labor, I would be run out of town.”

Su is currently deputy labor secretary. If confirmed she will take over from Marty Walsh, who is leaving to lead the National Hockey League player’s union.

Biden said: “If I ever want anybody in the foxhole with me, I want Marty Walsh.”

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As Walsh’s deputy, Su was central to negotiations between labor and freight rail companies last year, working to avert a strike. She has also worked to broaden employee training and crack down on wage theft.

Her nomination will run through the Senate, which is controlled by Biden’s Democratic allies. Su has drawn support. The Senate majority leader, Chuck Schumer, said on Tuesday she would be “phenomenal” in the job.

“The president couldn’t have picked a better nominee,” the New Yorker told reporters. “I’m really excited about her, and we’re going to move to consider her nomination very, very quickly.”

Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who will preside over Su’s confirmation as chair of the Senate health, education, labor and pensions committee, also praised the selection.

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“I’m confident Julie Su will be an excellent secretary of labor,” Sanders tweeted. “I look forward to working with her to protect workers’ rights and build the trade union movement in this country.”

The Louisiana senator Bill Cassidy, the top Republican on the committee, opposed Su when she was selected for deputy secretary. He called her record “troubling” and “anti-worker”.

The committee should “have a full and thorough hearing process”, Cassidy said.

In the House, Judy Chu, the California Democrat who chairs the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, said she was “overjoyed” and thanked Biden for “nominating your first AAPI cabinet secretary”.

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“It certainly is better late than never,” Chu said.

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