Obama pledges to build diverse team as part of his ‘legacy’

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President Barack Obama (L) nominates Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) to be the next Secretary of State in the Roosevelt Room of the White House December 21, 2012 in Washington, DC. If confirmed, Kerry will replace retiring Secretary of State Hillary Clinton early in 2013. (Photo by Jim Lo Scalzo-Pool/Getty Images)

President Barack Obama (L) nominates Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) to be the next Secretary of State in the Roosevelt Room of the White House December 21, 2012 in Washington, DC. If confirmed, Kerry will replace retiring Secretary of State Hillary Clinton early in 2013. (Photo by Jim Lo Scalzo-Pool/Getty Images)

President Obama pledged this week that his second-term team of top advisers will include more blacks, Latinos and women, trying to rebut strong criticism about a lack of diversity among his aides from even some Democrats as the president has tapped white males as his chief of staff, defense secretary, treasury secretary, and secretary of state over the last few weeks.

He described appointing minorities and women as part of his “legacy,” arguing people he selects now for jobs could also serve in another administration.

“One of my highest priorities as an administration, particularly in my second term, because now I’m thinking about legacy, is to make sure that we are identifying talent from every walk of life, from every ethnic group, so that the next president will see how big a pool there is of talent out there, that can serve and wants to serve in a presidential administration,” Obama said in an interview with Univision.

He added, “So we’re going to redouble our efforts to recruit talented and gifted Latinos that come from every walk of life. It comes from academia, it comes from elected officials. It comes from foundations and non-for profits. Maybe some will come from the media.”

The president, pressed by Univision’s Maria Elena Salinas about the lack of Latinos among his cabinet picks for a second term so far, asked for patience, saying “we haven’t completed the formation of my cabinet.”

The diversity issue has dogged the president for weeks, particularly after a front-page story in the New York Times showed the president in a meeting on the economy that included 10 men and only a single woman. Rep. Alcee Hastings, a Democrat from Florida who is a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, sharply criticized Obama for ignoring black and Hispanic candidates as he has replaced outgoing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and other top officials.

Obama aides have defended the administration’s diversity, noting women and minorities hold many key posts. For example, Cecilia Munoz, a Latino woman, serves as the director of domestic policy at the White House and is leading the administration’s immigration push. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius, who is expected to remain for Obama’s second term, is tasked with implementing “Obamacare,” perhaps the president’s most important domestic policy initiative. Rob Nabors, who is black, was appointed this month as Obama’s deputy chief of staff for policy.

The president  had also considered United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice for secretary of state until Republicans signaled they would strongly oppose her nomination. (And Rice remains at the UN, which is also a cabinet position.)

And while Obama has filled four key jobs already, many still remain. And the administration is actively looking for diverse candidates for those jobs. Penny Pritzker, a Chicago billionaire whose family owns much of the Hyatt hotel empire, is rumored as a candidate to run the Commerce department, while Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is another possibility for a top administration post, perhaps secretary of transportation.