Strautmanis describes his experience working in the Senate as two
worlds—one in Obama’s office,
where he sees diversity evidenced by
whites and people of color in senior
positions working on issues of great
importance to the nation, and the
other when he leaves Obama’s office
and steps back in time. Obama’s
staff has 20 percent people of color.
“When I leave that world and
walk around other offices, I find
myself, frankly, in a situation that
I’m all too familiar with, where I’m
one of the few African Americans at
“One senator can have an impact
that an individual House member
can’t, and everybody recognizes that,”
Strautmanis says. “So the senior
members of that senator’s staff are
people that really have an impact on
the way legislation is developed.”
Obama, for example, has used the
diversity of opinions on his staff to
his advantage during the immigration
debate. “I’ve got some terrific Latino
staff people, both in Illinois and here
in Washington. They were able to
give me, I think, a perspective on
what was most important on the
Sen. Health, Educ. Comm.
“The fact that you have 100 U.S. senators and
no African Americans who serve in the chief-
of-staff position or very few legislative directors
who are African American is a problem.”
Sen. Finance Comm.
Paul Brathwaite, Congressional Black Causus
the table,” Strautmanis says.
Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., one
of the few senators who will discuss
the issue, has been deliberate in trying to create a staff that reflects his
constituency. “Diversity is more
than an imperative; it’s just sound
policy,” Durbin says. His staff has
25 percent people of color, including Clarisol Duque, a Latina who is
chief of staff in his Chicago office.
It also includes Christopher Chang,
an Asian American who serves as
senior floor counsel.
While many Americans scrutinize
the president’s selections for Cabinet
posts, few voters think about or
even know who their senator picks
for senior and committee staff positions. But just as the president
makes policy decisions based on the
quality of information and the
diversity of viewpoints in his
Cabinet, senators also rely on their
staffers to guide them on the issues.
immigration issue,” Obama says.
“They have helped me in terms of
outreach to the Latino community.
My entire communications operation
in the Spanish-speaking press is much
stronger than it might otherwise be,
and substantively, I think it has
helped determine how we approach
Patience Singleton, president of
the U.S. Senate Black Legislative
Staff and Democratic counsel on
the Senate Banking, Housing and
Urban Affairs Committee who
works directly for Sen. Paul
Sarbanes, D-Md., has seen diversity
make a difference on the committee
she works on and others.
“I can talk about real-world
experiences,” she says. “It’s important that African Americans be
there, particularly on the Judiciary
Committee,” where there only are
two black staffers out of 50,
While senators such as Durbin
and Obama believe diversity is
important because of the con-
Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.
Sen. Commerce Comm.
Sen. Banking Comm.