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Harris hops past Biden in early race for Black Caucus support

Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisFive House Democrats who could join Biden Cabinet GOP senator: No indication of widespread voting irregularities, window for Trump challenges is 'closing' Biden pledges to work with mayors MORE (D-Calif.) moved past former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden team wants to understand Trump effort to 'hollow out government agencies' Overnight Defense: Trump transgender ban 'inflicts concrete harms,' study says | China objects to US admiral's Taiwan visit Protect our world: How the Biden administration can save lives and economies worldwide 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 TrumpBiden team wants to understand Trump effort to 'hollow out government agencies' Trump's remaking of the judicial system Overnight Defense: Trump transgender ban 'inflicts concrete harms,' study says | China objects to US admiral's Taiwan visit 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 RushHillicon Valley: Judge's ruling creates fresh hurdle for TikTok | House passes bills to secure energy sector against cyberattacks | Biden campaign urges Facebook to remove Trump posts spreading 'falsehoods' House passes bills to secure energy sector against cyberattacks Congress should investigate OAS actions in Bolivia MORE (D-Ill.) and Frederica WilsonFrederica Patricia WilsonFive House Democrats who could join Biden Cabinet Lobbying world Harris calls it 'outrageous' Trump downplayed coronavirus 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 ObamaCentral Asia is changing: the Biden administration should pay close attention MSNBC to debut docuseries 'Obama' Can Biden vanquish Democrats' old, debilitating ghosts? 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 WarrenOn The Money: Biden to nominate Yellen for Treasury secretary | 'COVID cliff' looms | Democrats face pressure to back smaller stimulus Biden to nominate Janet Yellen as Treasury secretary: report Bottom line MORE (D-Mass.) to rank third in the Democratic field behind Biden and Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersFive House Democrats who could join Biden Cabinet Biden names John Kerry as 'climate czar' in new administration In the final chapter of 2020, we must recommit to repairing our democracy 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 RichmondFive House Democrats who could join Biden Cabinet Sunday shows - Virus surge dominates ahead of fraught Thanksgiving holiday Richmond says GOP 'reluctant to stand up and tell the emperor he wears no clothes' 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 LawsonFlorida Democrat introduces bill to recognize Puerto Rico statehood referendum The Hill's Campaign Report: Biden's virtual campaign swings through Florida House approves bill banning flavored tobacco products MORE (D-Fla.) on May 30, while Reps. A. Donald McEachinAston (Donale) Donald McEachinDemocrats to determine leaders after disappointing election Progressive group slams Biden White House pick over tie to fossil fuel industry OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Biden pledges carbon-free power by 2035 in T environment plan | Trump administration has been underestimating costs of carbon pollution, government watchdog finds | Trump to move forward with rollback of bedrock environmental law MORE (D-Va.), Dwight EvansDwight (Dewey) EvansHouse Democrats introduce bill to invest 0 billion in STEM research and education Will the next coronavirus relief package leave essential workers behind? Bipartisan GROCER Act would give tax break to frontline workers MORE (D-Pa.) and Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-Del.) announced their support weeks earlier. 

And Sen. Cory BookerCory BookerSenate Democrats reelect Schumer as leader by acclamation  Hill associations push for more diversity in lawmakers' staffs Sanders celebrates Biden-Harris victory: 'Thank God democracy won out' 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 ColemanDemocrats smell blood with new DHS whistleblower complaint New Jersey incumbents steamroll progressive challengers in primaries New Jersey Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman wins Democratic primary 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 MeeksDozens of progressive groups endorse Joaquin Castro for Foreign Affairs chair Castro pledges to term limit himself if elected Foreign Affairs chair Cedric Richmond's next move: 'Sky's the limit' if Biden wins 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 LewisDemocrats lead in diversity in new Congress despite GOP gains Biden must look to executive action to fulfill vow to Black Americans The purposeful is political: Gen Z bowls over their doubters 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. GreenRemoving slurs, bigotry from places on our maps paves the way to remove them from all aspects of our lives Safeguarding US elections by sanctioning Russian sovereign debt The Memo: Trump furor stokes fears of unrest MORE (D-Texas), Alcee HastingsAlcee (Judge) Lamar HastingsFlorida Democrat introduces bill to recognize Puerto Rico statehood referendum Poisoning of Putin opponent could test US-Moscow relationship Florida county official apologizes for social media post invoking Hitler  MORE (D-Fla.) and Wm. Lacy ClayWilliam (Lacy) Lacy ClayIncoming lawmaker says her Breonna Taylor mask has colleagues calling her Breonna Record number of Black women elected to Congress in 2020 Six people whose election wins made history 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 LeeDemocrats brush off calls for Biden to play hardball on Cabinet picks Top contender for Biden Defense chief would be historic pick Overnight Defense: 5 US service members killed in international peacekeeping helicopter crash in Egypt | Progressives warn Biden against Defense nominee with contractor ties | Trump executive order to ban investment in Chinese military-linked companies 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 ClintonThe Hill's 12:30 Report - Third vaccine candidate with 90% efficacy Biden won — so why did Trump's popularity hit its highest point ever? The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the UAE Embassy in Washington, DC - Calls mount to start transition as Biden readies Cabinet picks 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 ScottRace for House ag chair heats up Business groups scramble to forge ties amid race for House Agriculture chair OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Republicans in campaign mode for top spots on House environmental committees | Peterson loss prompts scramble for House Agriculture chair 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.”