Interior Secretary Ken Salazar will leave the Obama administration by the end of March, a departure that means that the president's cabinet may be left without any Latino members.
Salazar, a fifth-generation Coloradan and former senator, plans to return to his home state. The interior secretary was one of two Latinos serving in President Obama's cabinet; the other being Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, who resigned her post last week. Upon Salazar's departure at the end of March, no Latinos will be left in Obama's cabinet unless he appoints one in the interim.
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"I want to thank Ken for his hard work and leadership on behalf of the American people. As the Secretary of the Interior, Ken has helped usher in a new era of conservation for our nation's land, water, and wildlife," Obama said in a statement.
Obama has come under fire in recent days for an apparent lack of racial and gender diversity in his recent cabinet picks for his second term as president. Nominees to fill high-profile positions at the departments of Treasury, State and Defense have all been white males. The Department of State was headed by Hillary Clinton during Obama's first term.
Politicos on both sides of the aisle have taken notice. Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.), a co-founder of the Congressional Black Caucus, said on MSNBC last week that the lack of diversity is "as embarrassing as hell." And the Republican National Committee circulated an email to reporters on Tuesday titled "Obama's Boys Club" seeking to shame Obama for not picking women to fill top cabinet posts.
Obama dismissed this criticism during a news conference on Monday, saying it's too early to judge how diverse his cabinet is since several vacant posts have not yet been filled. He also noted the prominent role women have played in his cabinet, including Clinton, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, and Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano.
"I'm very proud that in the first four years, we had as diverse, if not a more diverse, a White House and a cabinet than any in history," he said. "And I intended to continue that, because it turns out when you look for the very best people, given the incredible diversity of this country, you're going to end up with a diverse staff and a diverse team, and that very diversity helps to create more effective policy making, and better decision making for me, because it brings different perspectives to the table."
Obama added that he "would just suggest that everybody kind of wait until they've seen all my appointment[s], who is in the White House staff and who is in my cabinet, before they rush to judgment."
The scrutiny of Obama's cabinet makeup comes after an election in which he relied on a coalition of Latinos, blacks and Asian-Americans to help regain the White House. Obama took more than 70 percent of the Latino vote and a record 36 Latino members were elected to the House and Senate.
As interior secretary, Salazar's most high-profile moment came when he oversaw an offshore oil drilling moratorium after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, noted the Denver Post, which first reported Salazar's departure.