Indian Americans in Trump Administration

In the US, people of Indian origin are among the strongest supporters of the country’s Democratic Party, a recent study showed. In the past decade, the number of Asian-American voters nearly doubled to 3.9 million in 2012 from 2 million, making them among the fastest growing groups of voters in the U.S., according to the survey.

The researchers asked Indian-Americans how they would vote in the 2016 Presidential elections. Close to 60% of Indian-Americans polled said they viewed the Republican Party unfavorably. Only 17% said viewed Republican party hopeful Donald Trump’s party favorably. The remaining 24% said they didn’t have an opinion.

An impressive 84% of the 2.85 million-strong Indian-American community voted for Barack Obama in 2008, second perhaps only to African-Americans as a minority group. According to a Pew Research Center survey, of all the Asian American groups surveyed, Indian-Americans were the most Democratic-leaning, again at 65%. Only 18% favored Republicans.

However, since President Trump assumed office as the President of the United States, Indian Americans have been on his administration in record numbers. For the first time ever, an Indian American, Nikki Haley, was elevated to the Cabinet level position. The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, is thought to be the first Indian-American woman appointed to a cabinet-level position. Other than Haley, there are currently only three other people of color in the Trump administration’s 24 cabinet or cabinet-level positions.

Trump, keeping his promise at the campaign, gave India a “leadership role” in Washington’s global strategy across a broad geographic swath. “I am thrilled to salute you, Prime Minister Modi, and the Indian people for all you are accomplishing together,” Trump told the Indian premier last June. “We welcome India’s emergence as a leading global power and stronger strategic and defence partner,” said his national strategy unveiled last month.

Indian-Americans appear to be disproportionately represented in Trump’s nominations compared to other minority groups, said Karthick Ramakrishnan, a political science professor at the University of California, Riverside, who researches Asian Americans’ civic participation.

But Ramakrishnan suggests that the appointments don’t seem to be a conscious attempt on the White House’s part to diversify its ranks. Rather, the choices appear to be about filling vacancies with experienced and highly connected individuals who are ideologically aligned with the Trump administration ― some of whom just happen to be of Indian descent.

“As far as we can tell, the Trump administration is not taking race or ethnicity into account much, if at all, in terms of appointments, unlike the Obama administration, which was trying to have as diverse set of appointments as possible,” Ramakrishnan said. “I think it’s almost incidental that these people happen to be Indian-American. The fact that they’re Indian-American [doesn’t appear] to make any difference over and beyond what their prior background or political orientation is.”

Trump appointed Ajit Pai as the Chairman of the Federal Communication Commission, a position with a vast portfolio overseeing of the Internet, mobile phones, airwaves, broadcast and communications. Raj Shah serves as his deputy adviser and principal deputy press secretary. Uttam Dhillon, another deputy adviser, is also his deputy counsel.

Seema Verma serves as the administrator of the health insurance programs for seniors and the poor. Trump also tapped Vishal J. Amin, a senior counsel on the House Judiciary Committee, as the White House’s new intellectual property enforcement coordinator, and Neil Chatterjee, an energy adviser for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, as a member of the federal energy regulatory commission. Krishna R. Urs, a career member of the Foreign Service, was nominated to be the ambassador to Peru.

These prominent Indian-Americans are now helping the Trump White House push its conservative agenda on everything from repealing the Affordable Care Act to overhauling government regulations and scrapping net neutrality rules.

While Ajit Pai has been in the news for his controversial move to do away with net neutrality, as the administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Verma hasemerged as a key player in Republicans’ controversial quest to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. She is a health policy expert from Indiana who crafted an alternative to Medicaid in her state that won the approval of conservatives.

“I think Indian-Americans and certainly the Indian immigrant press certainly takes notice when people get appointed, and there’s a little bit of ethnic pride knowing there are Indian-Americans in powerful positions, regardless of the administration,” Ramakrishnan said. “But I don’t think Trump is making inroads with the Indian-American community based on the appointments he has made. Policies like the immigration ban, anti-immigrant rhetoric, the Affordable Care Act, are issues that Indian Americans care about. [Trump’s positions] are opposed to the way the vast majority of Indian-Americans stand.”

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