Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer will on Tuesday ask his caucus to adopt extensive new rules to promote staff diversity, including a version of the NFL’s “Rooney Rule,” which will require Senate offices to interview at least one minority applicant for senior staff openings in the future.
The diversity measures are part of a wider package of caucus rules that Schumer will put forward on Tuesday. The Democratic leader has also vowed to publish official diversity statistics from Senate offices on the website of the Senate Diversity Initiative, which hosts a resume bank for potential Senate staffers of color and will be the subject of beefed-up efforts to work with every individual Democratic Senate office on diverse hiring practices.
The efforts follow intense criticism from interest groups and minority staffers regarding the paltry share of non-white Senate Democratic staff. Several studies, including a 2015 report from the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, have exposed a severe demographic disconnect between the party’s policymakers in Washington and its core constituencies in the states.
The report found that just 7 percent of top Senate staffers (counting chiefs of staff, legislative directors, communications directors, and committee staff directors) were people of color. It also noted that while African-Americans provided nearly one-quarter of the Democratic Party’s votes, only one top Senate Democratic staffer was black.
“We must ensure Senate be more reflective of our country’s diverse population,” Schumer said in a statement. “Expanding the diversity initiative, following the Rooney rule and dedicating ourselves to increasing diversity are important steps we can take to help achieve that goal and better serve our country.”
Schumer has already announced the new initiatives to several interested parties, including a group of minority lobbyists that had been working to improve diversity in the Senate and at the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, where the group met with Schumer two weeks ago. Schumer also publicized the effort a gathering of the New York State Association of Black and Puerto Rican Legislators earlier this month.
Schumer’s office is still working with Senate legal advisers to figure out exactly how to survey office diversity and post results, but promoters of the new measures see the official statistics as a centerpiece of the plan.
They previously relied on outside research, like the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies report, for hard numbers on the Senate’s diversity problem. But the data to be gathered and posted at the Senate Diversity Initiative, which is headed by newly hired director Lorenzo Olvera, will provide some official measure of whether diversity efforts are making a difference.
“This plan is a big deal. It’s one thing to talk about it and another to have something in place,” said Paul Brathwaite, a lobbyist with the Podesta Group who was part of the group of minority lobbyists pushing the DSCC and Senate Democrats to promote greater staff diversity. “… It’s going to take a team of people and the right people to do it. But I think the commitment is pretty amazing.”
The rules are the culmination of months of work on new rules by Democratic senators including Cory Booker of New Jersey and Brian Schatz of Hawaii, who collabroated with colleagues, current and former Democratic staffers and interest groups to identify new policies that would make a difference in Senate staffing — “formalizing ideas that have been talked about and shared” into concrete guidelines, said one participant in some of those meetings.
The NFL’s Rooney Rule, named for Dan Rooney of the family that owns the Pittsburgh Steelers, was implemented in 2003 and required teams to interview minority candidates for coaching jobs and general manager positions. In Congress, implementing the Rooney Rule for senior staff was seen as especially important, because those senior staff are later responsible for hiring other Senate staffers and creating a pipeline of future talent for the top jobs.
“The Senate is a better place when we have more people of different backgrounds and perspectives offering their voices and ideas,” Schatz said in a statement. “That’s why these new rules Leader Schumer has put in place are encouraging. By institutionalizing our efforts, we can start to address the structural obstacles that have made it harder to diversify the Senate workforce. While there is still more work to do to, this is a positive step toward making sure the Senate – members and staff – looks more like America.”