Harris hops past Biden in early race for Black Caucus support

Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisBiden formally clinches Democratic presidential nomination Kamala Harris to Trump: 'Keep George Floyd's name out of your mouth' New England Patriots owner pledges M to social justice causes MORE (D-Calif.) moved past former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden's right, we need policing reform now - the House should quickly take up his call to action Ohio is suddenly a 2020 battleground Biden wins Guam presidential primary MORE in the early race for 2020 endorsements from Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) members after her strong performance in the first primary debate earned her the support of two new lawmakers.

CBC endorsements, a vital commodity in a Democratic primary, have taken on special significance this presidential cycle, as President TrumpDonald John TrumpMitt Romney invokes late father during the Civil Rights Movement amid protests White House wanted to deploy 10,000 troops to control protests: reports Zuckerberg, Chan-funded scientists pen 'letter of concern' over Trump, misinformation MORE has injected issues of race into the election in unprecedented fashion and as a crowded Democratic field fights to nail down the support of black voters, who will be crucial in early primary states such as South Carolina.

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Most lawmakers in the 55-member CBC have opted to stay on the sidelines in the early stages of the primary.

But Harris, herself a member of the group, unveiled two new CBC endorsements Monday, when Reps. Bobby RushBobby Lee RushThe Hill's Morning Report - DC preps for massive Saturday protest; Murkowski breaks with Trump House coronavirus bill aims to prevent utility shutoffs Jimmy Kimmel mocks Pence delivery of PPE MORE (D-Ill.) and Frederica WilsonFrederica Patricia WilsonDemocrats call for Congress to take action following death of George Floyd Black Caucus member unveils bill to create commission addressing legacy of slavery House Democrats unveil measure to condemn police brutality MORE (D-Fla.) rallied to her side. The additions bring Harris’s CBC endorsements to a total of six, compared to Biden's five.

Both lawmakers alluded to Harris’s debate showing in praising her presidential chops. 

"Before the debate, Kamala Harris's viability as a candidate had been extremely underestimated, in part because voters are still getting to know her," Wilson told The Hill.

Wilson also praised Harris for the manner in which she challenged Biden when she directly confronted the former Delaware senator over his opposition to federal efforts to bus students across school districts in the 1970s.

In a poignant moment, Harris said that she had been one of the children to benefit from the busing policies intended to racially integrate schools.

"At last week's debate, the rest of the world saw the formidable candidate that I've always known her to be. In her handling of Vice President Biden, she was respectful but commanding, and her recollection of being bused to school as a child also made her extremely relatable," Wilson said. "I was glad that Sen. Harris challenged the former vice president on busing because that whole saga was a cathartic period in the history of separate but equal schools."

Wilson said that she had gotten to know Harris during CBC meetings, adding that the California senator "reminded me of a female Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaMattis denounces Trump, applauds protests, defends America On The Trail: Crisis response puts Trump on defense, even in red states The Hill's 12:30 Report: NYT publishes controversial Tom Cotton op-ed MORE."

Rush also cited Harris’s debate skills in his endorsement.

“Last week, 18 million Americans got to see what I have known about Kamala for some time. She is a once-in-a-lifetime leader. She exemplifies what global leadership is all about,” Rush said in a statement released by the Harris campaign, referring to the number of viewers who tuned in to the debates.

Harris is now trying to build momentum after her debate performance last week, with multiple recent polls showing a spike in support among Democratic primary voters.

A new Hill-HarrisX poll released Monday found Harris surging past Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenTwitter CEO responds to Trump: 'Not true' that removing campaign video was illegal Biden formally clinches Democratic presidential nomination Warren, Pressley introduce bill to make it a crime for police officers to deny medical care to people in custody MORE (D-Mass.) to rank third in the Democratic field behind Biden and Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersBiden wins Guam presidential primary Liberals: Which 'science' are we supposed to believe? Biden formally clinches Democratic presidential nomination MORE (I-Vt.) — a 6-point jump from an identical poll two weeks ago.

The new CBC endorsements mark an early shift in what is sure to be a long and hard-fought race among the presidential hopefuls for the support of prominent black figures on and off Capitol Hill.

Biden had taken the early lead in that contest, securing the backing of Rep. Cedric RichmondCedric Levon RichmondStates plead for cybersecurity funds as hacking threat surges Democrats lobby Biden on VP choice Bottom line MORE (D-La.), who is now a national co-chairman of his campaign, on top of four other CBC members.

But no CBC members have endorsed Biden since last week’s debate; the most recent was Rep. Al LawsonAlfred (Al) James LawsonThe Hill's Campaign Report: Biden's virtual campaign swings through Florida House approves bill banning flavored tobacco products Lobbying world MORE (D-Fla.) on May 30, while Reps. A. Donald McEachinAston (Donale) Donald McEachinHouse Democrats seek to codify environmental inequality mapping tool  House coronavirus bill aims to prevent utility shutoffs OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Oil prices jump amid partial reopenings | Bill aims to block fossil fuel firms from coronavirus aid | Tribes to receive some coronavirus aid after court battle MORE (D-Va.), Dwight EvansDwight (Dewey) EvansBipartisan GROCER Act would give tax break to frontline workers Bipartisan bill aims to help smallest businesses weather the coronavirus crisis The State of the Union on homelessness — proven solutions can't withstand budget cuts MORE (D-Pa.) and Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-Del.) announced their support weeks earlier. 

And Sen. Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerSunday shows preview: Protests against George Floyd's death, police brutality rock the nation for a second week Paul clashes with Booker, Harris over anti-lynching bill Democratic senators kneel during moment of silence for George Floyd MORE (D-N.J.), the only other top-tier African American presidential candidate in the field, has just two CBC endorsements. But both of those lawmakers hail from his New Jersey delegation: Reps. Donald Payne Jr.Donald Milford Payne Jr.Here are the 95 Democrats who voted to support impeachment Harris hops past Biden in early race for Black Caucus support New Jersey Dems tell Pentagon not to use military funds for border wall MORE (D) and Bonnie Watson ColemanBonnie Watson ColemanHouse members race to prepare for first-ever remote votes Trump orders agencies to cut regulations that 'inhibit economic recovery' Federal employees push for COVID-19 protections in 'dangerous' workplaces MORE (D). 

Some CBC members warned that Biden came up short in his exchange on busing with Harris at last week’s debate. 

Rep. Gregory MeeksGregory Weldon MeeksEngel primary challenger hits million in donations A prescriptive path forward for saving struggling countries' economies Minority caucuses endorse Texas Afro-Latina for Congress MORE (D-N.Y.) told “CNN Newsroom” that the attacks on Biden from Harris over busing were “absolutely” fair, noting that he, like Harris, was bused in an effort to integrate schools. 

“He has to say that I have evolved, as many people on other issues, that I now understand that, and how hurtful and harmful it was,” Meeks, who has not endorsed anyone, said of Biden. “It is very hurtful to African Americans, what took place. It's deep and systemic and still in this society.”

After the debate, Biden sought to clarify his position on busing, saying he believed the issue should have been decided at the local level and that courts, rather than the Education Department, should set the rules. 

Before the exchange with Harris, Biden had already come under fire for remarks at a fundraiser in which he offered two segregationist senators as examples of people he could work with despite their disagreements.

Biden's comments were defended by some lawmakers, including civil rights veteran Rep. John LewisJohn LewisJohn Lewis: 'Serious mistake' for Trump to use military to quash protests John Lewis praises George Floyd protesters for getting in 'good trouble' Pelosi, Schumer say treatment of protesters outside White House 'dishonors every value that faith teaches us' MORE (D-Ga.), who said he did not find the comments to be offensive.

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But Rush told Politico last month that Biden’s remarks about the senators were “wholly out of touch and woefully ignorant of the nuances of the black American experience.”   

Three CBC members endorsed Harris in the days following Biden’s remarks invoking the segregationist senators: Reps. Al GreenAlexander (Al) N. GreenThe Hill's Coronavirus Report: Miami mayor worries about suicide and domestic violence rise; Trump-governor debate intensifies Overnight Energy: Iconic national parks close over coronavirus concerns | New EPA order limits telework post-pandemic | Lawmakers urge help for oil and gas workers Bipartisan lawmakers urge assistance for oil and gas workers MORE (D-Texas), Alcee HastingsAlcee (Judge) Lamar HastingsThe Hill's Coronavirus Report: Johns Hopkins's Jennifer Nuzzo says America needs public health crisis insurance to pay for COVID-19 victims; Protests, pandemic continue to ravage America Pelosi stands firm amid calls to close Capitol Sanders wants one-on-one fight with Biden MORE (D-Fla.) and Wm. Lacy ClayWilliam (Lacy) Lacy ClayCalls for police reform sparks divisions in Congress The Hill's 12:30 Report: Pence visits Orlando as all 50 states reopen The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Mnuchin, Powell: Economy may need more boost; Trump defends malaria drug MORE (D-Mo.), though none cited the controversy in the timing of their endorsements.

The first CBC member to endorse Harris, Rep. Barbara LeeBarbara Jean LeeMinority caucuses call for quick action on police reform Democrats call for Congress to take action following death of George Floyd Black Caucus member unveils bill to create commission addressing legacy of slavery MORE (D-Calif.), did so back in February.

The early split among CBC members is reminiscent of the political dynamics surrounding the 2008 Democratic primary.

Then, the front-runner was Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonOhio is suddenly a 2020 battleground Republicans fear Trump may cost them Senate Biden: Probably '10 to 15 percent' of Americans 'are just not very good people' MORE, a white candidate with a national brand, as Biden is today.

A number of CBC members, long affiliated with the Clinton dynasty, flocked to her side even as Barack Obama was making strides in what would eventually lead to his history-making election as the country’s first African American president.

But the changing tides over the course of that hard-fought contest led to highly unusual cases of lawmakers shifting allegiances midstream.

One prominent example was Lewis, who endorsed Obama in February 2008 after siding with Clinton months earlier. Rep. David ScottDavid Albert ScottLawmakers shame ex-Wells Fargo directors for failing to reboot bank Inside the progressive hunt for vulnerable House Democrats Here are the 95 Democrats who voted to support impeachment MORE (D-Ga.) also switched his endorsement after Obama won 80 percent of the primary vote in his district.

Neither Lewis nor Scott has made an endorsement so far this year, and no lawmakers have switched endorsements at this point.

And there’s still a chance that Biden could regain ground from the CBC.

“Clearly the first round has gone to Kamala Harris,” Meeks said. “The second round is going to become tremendously important.”