Harris hops past Biden in early race for Black Caucus support

Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisEight Democratic presidential hopefuls to appear in CNN climate town hall Biden, Buttigieg bypassing Democratic delegate meeting: report The Hill's Morning Report - Trump on defense over economic jitters MORE (D-Calif.) moved past former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenEight Democratic presidential hopefuls to appear in CNN climate town hall Hill Reporter Rafael Bernal: Biden tries to salvage Latino Support Biden, Buttigieg bypassing Democratic delegate meeting: report 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 TrumpTrump pushes back on recent polling data, says internal numbers are 'strongest we've had so far' Illinois state lawmaker apologizes for photos depicting mock assassination of Trump Scaramucci assembling team of former Cabinet members to speak out against Trump 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.

ADVERTISEMENT

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 RushCongress mobilizes on cyber threats to electric grid CBC lawmakers rip Justice Democrats for targeting black lawmakers for primaries The Hill's Morning Report - Harris, Warren rise and Biden tumbles after debates MORE (D-Ill.) and Frederica WilsonFrederica Patricia WilsonAssault weapons ban picks up steam in Congress Democratic rep reconsiders wearing trademark hats because of 'racists who taunt me' Overnight Defense: US shoots down Iranian drone | Pentagon sending 500 more troops to Saudi Arabia | Trump mulls Turkey sanctions | Trump seeks review of Pentagon cloud-computing contract 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 Obama3 real problems Republicans need to address to win in 2020 Obama's high school basketball jersey sells for 0,000 at auction Dirty little wars and the law: Did Osama bin Laden win? 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 Ann WarrenTop Sanders adviser: Warren isn't competing for 'same pool of voters' Eight Democratic presidential hopefuls to appear in CNN climate town hall In shift, top CEOs say shareholder value not top goal MORE (D-Mass.) to rank third in the Democratic field behind Biden and Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersTop Sanders adviser: Warren isn't competing for 'same pool of voters' Eight Democratic presidential hopefuls to appear in CNN climate town hall Top aide Jeff Weaver lays out Sanders's path to victory 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 RichmondHouse Democrat calls for gun control: Cities can ban plastic straws but 'we can't ban assault weapons?' Embattled Juul seeks allies in Washington Democratic lawmakers support Bustos after DCCC resignations 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 LawsonWarren introduces bill targeted at food insecurity on college campuses Harris hops past Biden in early race for Black Caucus support Florida Republican who openly follows 'QAnon' conspiracy theory running for Congress MORE (D-Fla.) on May 30, while Reps. A. Donald McEachinAston (Donale) Donald McEachinRacial politics roil Democratic Party CBC lawmakers rip Justice Democrats for targeting black lawmakers for primaries Harris hops past Biden in early race for Black Caucus support MORE (D-Va.), Dwight EvansDwight (Dewey) Michael EvansHere are the 95 Democrats who voted to support impeachment Harris hops past Biden in early race for Black Caucus support Biden, Harris lead in 2020 endorsements MORE (D-Pa.) and Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-Del.) announced their support weeks earlier. 

And Sen. Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerEight Democratic presidential hopefuls to appear in CNN climate town hall Biden, Buttigieg bypassing Democratic delegate meeting: report F-bombs away: Why lawmakers are cursing now more than ever 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 Biden, Harris lead in 2020 endorsements MORE (D) and Bonnie Watson ColemanBonnie Watson ColemanHere are the 95 Democrats who voted to support impeachment Racial politics roil Democratic Party Harris hops past Biden in early race for Black Caucus support 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 MeeksEmbattled Juul seeks allies in Washington House Democrat knocks Trump's Cummings tweet: 'This guy is a terrible, terrible human being' Pelosi backers feel vindicated after tumultuous stretch 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 LewisCummings invites Trump to visit Baltimore House Democrat knocks Trump's Cummings tweet: 'This guy is a terrible, terrible human being' George Wallace's daughter: 'I saw Daddy a lot' during 2016 election MORE (D-Ga.), who said he did not find the comments to be offensive.

ADVERTISEMENT

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. GreenDanish prime minister: Trump's idea to buy Greenland 'absurd'  Juan Williams: Democrats finally hit Trump where it hurts We need a climate plan for agriculture MORE (D-Texas), Alcee HastingsAlcee (Judge) Lamar HastingsHarris hops past Biden in early race for Black Caucus support NFL players: Corporal punishment in schools is unacceptable Biden, Harris lead in 2020 endorsements MORE (D-Fla.) and Wm. Lacy ClayWilliam (Lacy) Lacy ClayAppetite for Democratic term limits fizzling out Young Democrats look to replicate Ocasio-Cortez's primary path Here are the 95 Democrats who voted to support impeachment 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 LeeOvernight Health Care: Planned Parenthood to leave federal family planning program absent court action | Democrats demand Trump withdraw rule on transgender health | Cummings, Sanders investigate three drug companies for 'obstructing' probe Democrats demand Trump officials withdraw rule on transgender health House Democratic leadership member backs impeachment inquiry 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 ClintonTop Sanders adviser: Warren isn't competing for 'same pool of voters' Anti-Trump vets join Steyer group in pressing Democrats to impeach Trump Republicans plot comeback in New Jersey 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 ScottInside the progressive hunt for vulnerable House Democrats Here are the 95 Democrats who voted to support impeachment Harris hops past Biden in early race for Black Caucus support 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.”