Politics

Congressional Leaders Praised for Diversity in Hiring

Six top staff of color have been hired by Republican and Democratic leaders in Congress, prompting praise from Spencer Overton, president of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies.

“The Joint Center commends [House] Speaker [Paul] Ryan and Senators Cortez Masto, Dianne Feinstein, Kamala Harris, Martin Heinrich and Thom Tillis for their leadership in hiring diverse talent to senior staff positions,” Overton said in a statement. “The Joint Center also commends Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer for adopting the Rooney Rule, and for urging his colleagues to do the same.”

Jonathan Burks
Jonathan Burks (Courtesy of C-SPAN)

Overton still cautioned that “a major disparity persists when it comes to interviewing and hiring people of color in top positions, especially in the U.S. Senate.”

“For example, although Latinos and African-Americans collectively comprise over 30 percent of the U.S. population, it appears that not one of the U.S. Senate’s 39 committee staff directors is Latino or African-American,” he said. “We urge all members to work on addressing the challenge of lack of diversity among top staff.”

Overton nevertheless lauded Ryan for selecting the first African-American chief of staff to a speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives.

“Ryan has helped shatter a centuries-old color barrier,” he said.

The new hires are as follows:

• House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) hired Jonathan Burks as chief of staff

• Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) hired Rey Benitez as communications director

• Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) hired Steve Haro as chief of staff

• Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) hired Clint Odom as legislative director

• Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-NM) hired Virgillio Barerra as legislative director

• Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC) hired Courtney Temple as legislative director

In addition, Harris brought immediate leadership to the U.S. Senate by hiring Odom as her legislative director. So far, Odom is the only African-American Democratic staffer in the current Congress in one of the four top spots — chief of staff, legislative director, communications director and staff committee director, according to Overton.

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