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Gina Abercrombie-Winstanley – Brian Mast exchange at diversity hearing becomes testy

The Biden administration is pushing liberal “woke” policies so hard on U.S. diplomats that the State Department’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion is effectively “mandating division,” a key House Republican told the office’s outgoing chief at an occasionally testy hearing Tuesday on Capitol Hill.

“This office has a clever name that uses strong emotional words,” said Rep. Brian Mast, who chairs the House Foreign Affairs oversight subcommittee. “But [it] functionally does the opposite of what America has always stood for, which is very simply the best man, the best woman for the job.”

The State Department office, he added, “is giving people the impression … that it is looking for a preferred race, or — at a minimum — not white.”

Amb. Gina Abercrombie-Winstanley, Foggy Bottom’s chief diversity and inclusion officer since April 2021, defended the administration’s push to expand diversity in the country’s diplomatic corps, which she noted is currently 76% white.

“As the State Department’s first chief diversity and inclusion officer, I believe our nation’s values of inclusion, equity and our diversity contribute to our national strength,” she said.

Mr. Biden’s proposed budget included $76 million to fund diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) initiatives within the State Department next year.

In addition to confronting issues of sexual orientation and religious discrimination, analysts say the initiatives focus on increasing the number of minorities within the diplomatic corps. Fewer than 4% of Foreign Service officers (FSOs) are Black, under 8% are Hispanic, and only about 7.8% are of Asian descent, according to published reports.

Ms. Abercrombie-Winstanley, who recently revealed plans to step down, told lawmakers the fiscal 2024 budget seeks to compile more accurate data on the department’s racial profile and other characteristics, and on the career trajectory of different groups, saying officials need to make “evidence-informed decisions.”

“My office has now published a demographic baseline report that provides an unprecedented look at our bureaus broken down by race, ethnicity, gender, status of disability, grade rank and job series skill code,” she said. “We plan to release an updated report annually to show trend lines.”

House Democrats on the panel praised her efforts at Tuesday’s hearing.

Rep. Jason Crow of Colorado said he was “appalled” by Mr. Mast’s opening remarks before Ms. Abercrombie-Winstanley testified.

“Those who want to talk about merit also want to ignore the history of this country,” said Mr. Crow. “They want to ignore the fact that the playing field is not level for vast swaths of our country.”

Several committee Republicans, meanwhile, joined Mr. Mast in a recent letter to Mr. Blinken arguing the diversity and other mandates are “distracting” the department from its primary foreign policy goals in a dangerous world.

In a cordial but at times pointed exchange, Mr. Mast took aim at a range of internal policy shifts made on Ms. Abercrombie-Winstanley’s watch, including last year’s dropping of a requirement that applicants must pass the notoriously difficult written exam when applying for the Foreign Service. 

“I would ask somebody to name to me another profession where you can fail the qualifying exam and still get the job,” said Mr. Mast. 

At the time of the policy change, a department official said the change would better the service’s ability to draw from an applicant pool that “brings to bear the talents and diversity that this country offers.”

Critics charge that it’s about elevating skin color as a metric no less valuable than aptitude testing in the hiring process.

Said Mr. Mast at one point, “In my opinion, you have made diversity — or as I will call it, ‘identity,’ a core precept for Foreign Service officers that is equal to their ability to demonstrate leadership,” the Florida Republican said. 

Mr. Mast, who has Hispanic heritage and lost both legs while serving in the Army in Afghanistan, then got personal.

“Can you tell me? Am I white?” he asked Ms. Abercrombie-Winstanley, who is African American.

“I would allow you to tell me how you characterize yourself,” Ms. Ambercrombie-Winstanley responded.

“That’s exactly right. I would have to tell you, not just how I characterize myself, but what I am. But I’m asking, do you know if I’m white?” said Mr. Mast.

“I do not know,” responded Ms. Abercrombie-Winstanley.

Mr. Mast: “Half-Black?”

Ms. Abercrombie-Winstanley: “I do not know.”

Mr. Mast: “Asian-Islander? Brown? Latino?”

Ms. Abercrombie-Winstanley: “I do not know.”

Mr. Mast: “You can’t know without asking. … And we can’t ask what somebody is.”

“[It] shouldn’t matter that I’m half Mexican,” he added. “It shouldn’t matter whether I’m able-bodied, or ambulatory or not ambulatory. That doesn’t have anything to do with what my background is.”

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𝗖𝗿𝗲𝗱𝗶𝘁𝘀, 𝗖𝗼𝗽𝘆𝗿𝗶𝗴𝗵𝘁 & 𝗖𝗼𝘂𝗿𝘁𝗲𝘀𝘆:
𝗙𝗼𝗿 𝗮𝗻𝘆 𝗰𝗼𝗺𝗽𝗹𝗮𝗶𝗻𝘁𝘀 𝗿𝗲𝗴𝗮𝗿𝗱𝗶𝗻𝗴 𝗗𝗠𝗖𝗔,
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