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America's first black president criticized for white male cabinet

U.S. President Barack Obama announces his nomination of White House chief of staff and budget expert Jack Lew (R) as his next treasury secre
U.S. President Barack Obama announces his nomination of White House chief of staff and budget expert Jack Lew (R) as his next treasury secre

By Ian Simpson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The first black U.S. president is coming under fire from some of his own Democratic Party for naming a stream of white men to key cabinet and leadership posts in his second administration.

President Barack Obama on Thursday named Jack Lew as his Treasury secretary, the fourth white male he has named to the most prized cabinet posts in recent weeks.

Lew's nomination follows Obama's pick of Senator John Kerry to replace Hillary Clinton as secretary of state. He has also named former Senator Chuck Hagel to be defense Secretary and John Brennan to head the Central Intelligence Agency.

Against this, he lost the first Hispanic woman in the cabinet when Labor Secretary Hilda Solis announced her resignation on Wednesday. And last month Lisa Jackson, who is black, announced she was stepping down as head of the Environmental Protection Agency.

"It's embarrassing as hell," New York Democrat Charles Rangel, one of the most senior black members of Congress, said of the Obama appointments.

New Hampshire Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen, whose state has the only all-female delegation in Congress, described the appointments as "disappointing."

"We need a government that looks like America so we can address the concerns that we hear from across the spectrum," she said.

Republicans joined in the criticism with former presidential candidate Mike Huckabee accusing Obama of waging a "war on women," using the same words Democrats coined to criticize Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney during the election campaign last year.

"Now a lot of those females who supported Barack Obama are scratching their heads, and they're saying, ‘Whoa! How come there is so much testosterone in the Obama Cabinet and so little estrogen?'" the former Arkansas governor said on his radio show.

Obama beat Romney 55 percent to 43 percent among women, according to Reuters/Ipsos exit polling on Election Day. He also won large majorities of the African-American and Hispanic vote.

DIVERSITY AND DEMOGRAPHICS

Diversity in the United States is usually defined as including women and racial minorities, especially Hispanics and African-Americans. U.S. political pundits parse polling data of women, Hispanics, African Americans and other groups for signs of voting patterns.

They track the "gender gap," which is the percentage difference between Democratic and Republican support among women. Since Obama's re-election in November, many analysts have noted the rising percentage of U.S. ethnic minorities and described his victory as a reflection of changing demography.

The criticism of Obama is surprising because Republicans usually are the party accused of insensitivity to diversity.

Former President George W. Bush deflected this by pointing to the two secretaries of state during his eight years in office -- African-Americans Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice. They were followed by Hillary Clinton.

If confirmed by the Senate, Kerry will be the first white male to hold the top U.S. diplomatic post in more than a decade.

Almost overlooked in the criticism is that the White House announced this week that Attorney General Eric Holder, who is black, will stay on as the nation's senior legal officer.

Obama also was widely reported to be considering an African-American woman, United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice as Secretary of State. She pulled her name from consideration because of Republican objections to her statements about the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya.

White House spokesman Jay Carney urged critics on Wednesday to make their judgments only after Obama had completed his team.

"Women are well represented in the president's senior staff," he told reporters, noting that his team included Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

Debbie Walsh, director of Rutgers University's Center for American Women in Politics, which tracks women in elective office, said Obama's choices were a missed opportunity to put women into powerful jobs such as heading the Pentagon.

"A case could be made that Barack Obama won on the strength of the support that he had with women, given the gender gap," she told Reuters.

With women filling 36 percent of Cabinet posts in his first term, Obama had the highest percentage of women in top jobs of any president other than fellow Democrat Bill Clinton, she said.

(Reporting by Ian Simpson; Editing by Greg McCune)

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