Senate Republicans are delaying confirmation of President Joe Biden’s nominee to lead the federal personnel agency due to her past support of "critical race theory" and abortion rights.
Kiran Ahuja was cleared to lead the Office of Personnel Management by a key committee nearly two months ago. Her nomination is among "a long queue of Biden nominees pending" in the Senate, the Washington Post said Tuesday.
Ahuja likely will be confirmed eventually in the evenly divided Senate, but a vote on the nominations might not happen before senators leave for their summer recess.
Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., is leading the effort to block Ahuja, although senior Democrat and GOP officials told the Post several Republicans objected to a quick confirmation vote for her.
Critical race theory is defined by the Encyclopedia Britannica as the concept in which race is a socially constructed category ingrained in American law intended to maintain social, economic, and political inequalities between whites and nonwhites. It holds that the U.S. society is inherently or systemically racist.
The Office of Personnel Management plays a role in diversity and inclusion training for federal employees, as well as in carrying out abortion policy since it runs the largest employer-sponsored health insurance program in the country with 4 million enrollees.
"Senator Hawley has a hold on Kiran Ahuja's nomination because of her history promoting radical critical race theorists," Hawley spokeswoman Kelli Ford said in an email to the Post. "These associations merit real scrutiny, especially in light of Ms. Ahuja’s nomination to a role that would allow her to reinstate race-based training sessions throughout the entire federal government.
"Democrats sought to fast-track a vote, but Senator Hawley believes adequate debate time and full Senate consideration is needed for this nominee."
Republicans, saying critical race theory is divisive and false, have moved to ban its teaching in schools through measures in GOP-led state legislatures.
Former Vice President Mike Pence, in a speech last week to a party group in New Hampshire, called systemic racism a "left-wing myth" and said critical race theory was teaching children to "be ashamed of their skin color."
In a blog post last year, Ahuja linked to an article that claimed former President Donald Trump’s election was an example of white supremacy. Her blog post also spoke of freeing Black, indigenous, gay, and transgender Americans from the "daily trials of White supremacy."
Ahuja's support for abortion rights also is an issue with Republicans. The Hyde Amendment, a long-standing ban on federal funding for the procedure, has become a heightened issue because of Biden’s support for overturning it.
Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, ranking Republican on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, cited critical race theory and Ahuja's support for abortion rights as reasons for his "no" vote. The committee approved her nomination in April.
The three agencies in charge of the overall management of the government and its 2.1 million career employees are without permanent leadership six months into the Biden administration. No one has been confirmed to lead the General Services Administration, and nobody has been nominated to lead the White House Office of Management.
Ahuja, a 49-year-old attorney and daughter of immigrants from India, served at the relatively obscure personnel department in the Obama administration. She then was chief executive of a network of philanthropy organizations in the Pacific Northwest.
The White House and some Senate Democrats have pushed Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., to bring the nomination to a quick vote. GOP opposition, however, will force Schumer to go through procedural hurdles on the Senate floor, rather than move quickly with a pro forma vote that is more common for nominees to lower-profile posts.
"OPM plays a key role in carrying out President Biden’s efforts to rebuild and revitalize our federal workforce, which includes many of my constituents," Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., said in an email. "It’s crucial that the Senate move quickly to confirm her."
“Kiran Ahuja is a qualified, experienced, and dedicated public servant who we are looking forward to leading the Office of Personnel Management in its work protecting the safety of the workforce, empowering federal employees, and building a federal workforce that looks like America,” Chris Meagher, a deputy White House press secretary, wrote in an email.
Ahuja’s husband, Javier Guzman, the deputy general counsel for Harvard University, is Biden’s nominee to lead the Department of Justice’s civil division.
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