Washington – U.S. President Barack Obama lauded his White House and cabinet staff as one of the most diverse in history, noting that any criticisms over the lack of women and minorities in his second-term cabinet positions are premature.
"I would just suggest that everybody kind of wait until they've seen all of my appointments, who's in the White House staff and who's in my cabinet before they rush to judgement," Obama said Monday afternoon during a press conference at the White House.
"Until you've seen what my overall team looks like, it's premature to assume that somehow we are going backward. We are not going backward - we are going forward."
A week before Obama's inauguration for his second term, the president has been criticized by Congress over the lack of female, Latino and African-American appointments to his new cabinet.
Latino groups say they hope to be awarded for helping the president win reelection. Obama won about 71 percent of the Latino vote this past election, while Romney received 27 percent.
“It's just an issue of fairness. Obviously, Latinos did deliver,” said Hector Sanchez, chair of the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda, a coalition of 30 national Latino organizations. “We want at least three Latino cabinet members, we believe that is a fair reflection of the diversity of the nation.”
Sanchez said his organization has met with the White House and will submit a list of possible Latino candidates for cabinet positions by Tuesday.
Other Latino groups also say they hope Obama makes appointing Latinos to cabinet-level positions a priority.
“We certainly would not want to see anything less than two cabinet positions,” Arturo Vargas, executive director of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, told Fox News Latino. “At this point, I’m taking the president at his word.”
Vargas said that Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Congresswoman Linda Sanchez (D-CA) and Congressman Xavier Becerra (D-CA) are among the Latinos whose names could be considered for a cabinet post.
I'm very proud that in the first four years, we had as diverse, if not more diverse White House and a cabinet than any in history, and I intend to continue that.
- President Barack Obama
So far, Obama has picked four new members – all white men: John Kerry for Secretary of State, John Brennan for head of the CIA, Chuck Hagel for Secretary of Defense, and Jack Lew for Treasury Secretary.
Susan Rice, an African American female, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and a close friend of the president, removed her name from consideration for the State Department last month after Congressional leaders criticized her for comments she made after the Sept. 11th attacks. Several female House Democrats said the criticism of Rice was indicative of sexism and racism.
Some Latinos, like Alfonso Aguilar, executive director of the Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles, believes the media is blowing the diversity issue out of proportion. He said a candidate's credentials should be the most important factor.
“This is the influence of political correctness and multiculturalism,” Aguilar said. “We are always asking 'Where is the person of color?' 'Where are the women?' But we should be asking: Is the person capable, have the background and experience to perform the job?'”
The White House is expected to announce more members of Obama's cabinet in the coming weeks.
Six cabinet members are expected to stay for Obama's second term: Attorney General Eric Holder, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki, Secretary of Agriculture Thomas J. Vilsack. The White House cabinet consists of 15 positions, excluding vice president.
Obama is still looking for a White House Chief of Staff after appointing Lew to treasury secretary, as well as EPA administrator following Lisa Jackson's resignation and a Secretary of Labor after Hilda Solis, the nation's first Hispanic labor secretary, resigned last week.
Energy Secretary Steven Chu is expected to leave while Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, a Mexican American, and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, have not indicated whether they will stay for a second term.
"I'm very proud that in the first four years, we had as diverse, if not more diverse White House and a cabinet than any in history, and I intend to continue that," President Obama said.
"If you think about my first four years, the person who probably had the most influence on my foreign policy was a woman, the people who were in charge of moving forward my most important domestic initiative, healthcare, were women, the person in charge of our homeland security was a woman, my two appointments to the Supreme Court were women, and 50 percent of my White House staff were women," he said.