Trump extols Indian-Americans, announces intent to nominate Neomi Rao to DC Circuit Court of Appeals
By Geeta Goindi
Washington, DC, November 13, 2018 – For the second consecutive year, President Donald Trump lighted the Diwali ‘diya’ (lamp) in the White House to commemorate the popular Indian festival of lights and, in the process, reach out to a highly skilled, meritorious diaspora. It was a fitting gesture on his part to recognize a festival widely celebrated by Hindus, Sikhs, Jains and Buddhists.
“I am thrilled to be here for the celebration of Diwali”, Trump said at the outset adding, “I am honored to host this beautiful ceremony at the White House”.
The president was surrounded by bright Indian-Americans serving in his administration and joined by special adviser and daughter Ivanka Trump, Indian Ambassador Navtej Sarna and his wife Dr Avina Sarna. “Very, very special people”, he said looking around at the gathering in the historic Roosevelt Room.
He noted that the Diwali ceremony in the White House is “an appropriate place” to announce what became “the big story” of the day: his intent to nominate Indian-American Neomi Rao to the DC Circuit Court of Appeals. Rao, currently the administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, will be filling the seat vacated by Justice Brett Kavanaugh. Pending Senate confirmation, she will have a seat on the nation’s second-highest court, just one step from the Supreme Court.
“Thank you very much, Mr. President, for the confidence you’ve shown in me. I greatly appreciate it”, Rao said during the course of the event.
Trump, on his part, professed, “Our nation is blessed to be home to millions of hardworking citizens of Indian and Southeast Asian heritage who enrich our country in countless ways. Together, we are one proud American family”, he said looking around for affirmation which was forthcoming.
“I’m grateful to have numerous Americans of Indian and Southeast Asian heritage who fulfill critical roles across my administration. And they’ve done an incredible job”, he underscored. “Many of them are here today”, he noted, mentioning Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission Ajit Pai, Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Seema Verma, Chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Neil Chatterjee, Acting Administrator of Drug Enforcement Uttam Dhillon, Acting Under Secretary of State Manisha Singh, and Deputy White House Press Secretary Raj Shah.
Trump graciously accorded an opportunity for his high-ranking guests to address the Diwali event. Thanking the president “for this great honor for India and for the Indian-American community”, Ambassador Sarna noted that Indian-Americans “feel very welcome here” and “are integrated into the US society. They are a plus-plus both for India and for the United States”, he said.
New Delhi’s top diplomat in Washington affirmed, “We are looking at one of the best times we’ve ever had for the India-US relationship. Thank you for that”, he told President Trump who responded by saying, “I think that’s true. We’re very close. I think closer maybe than ever before”.
“The United States has deep ties to the nation of India, and I am grateful for my friendship with Prime Minister Modi”, he said. “I have great, great respect for Prime Minister Modi – tremendous respect”, he emphasized.
Trump indicated that bilateral trade is growing at a somewhat sluggish pace. “We’re trying very hard to make better trade deals with India, but they’re very good traders”, he said. “They’re very good negotiators. The best. So, we’re working, and it’s moving along”.
“India is the world’s largest democracy and the relationship between our two countries can act as a bulwark for freedom, prosperity and peace”, he said.
Recalling the journey of his parents from India to the United States, Pai told the gathering, “I think it’s a journey replicated by many of the folks in this room that represented a desire for the American dream and also the cherishing of our culture. And to celebrate that here at the White House today with you is a tremendous honor”, he said looking at the president. “So thank you for the support you’ve shown to our community”.
Verma, too, expressed her gratitude to Trump for hosting Diwali at the White House. “I appreciate your commitment to celebrating this event”, she said. “This is good over evil, and light over dark. And we just appreciate everything you do for our country every single day, and for putting together such a wonderful team, a diverse team”.
Dhillon thanked the president “for having us here today to celebrate this very important holiday to recognize its importance and for recognizing the value of diversity in the administration”.
In his prepared remarks, Trump said, “As we light the ‘diya’ in the White House, we join in the fellowship with all of those who light lamps in their own homes, cities, and places of worship. America is a land of faith and we are truly fortunate to have these wonderful traditions woven into the tapestry of our national life”.
“This ceremony signifies the triumph of light over darkness and good over evil. It is a jubilant occasion that brings loved ones, neighbors and communities closer together. And these shining lights remind us to seek wisdom, to give thanks, and to always cherish and love the ones who grace our lives. And I think that’s very much how people should all feel, and I know that’s the way we all feel”, he said confidently.