Harris hops past Biden in early race for Black Caucus support

Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisOvernight Health Care — Presented by That's Medicaid — House passes sweeping Pelosi bill to lower drug prices | Senate confirms Trump FDA pick | Trump officials approve Medicaid work requirements in South Carolina Sanders endorses Young Turks founder Cenk Uygur for Katie Hill's former House seat Kamala Harris dropped out, but let's keep her mental health plan alive MORE (D-Calif.) moved past former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenSenate gears up for battle over witnesses in impeachment trial Conservative group hits White House with billboard ads: 'What is Trump hiding?' Democrat representing Pennsylvania district Trump carried plans to vote to impeach  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 TrumpSenate gears up for battle over witnesses in impeachment trial Vulnerable Democrats tout legislative wins, not impeachment Trump appears to set personal record for tweets in a day 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: Progressives oppose funding bill over surveillance authority | Senators call for 5G security coordinator | Facebook gets questions over location tracking | Louisiana hit by ransomware attack Progressives oppose spending stopgap measure over surveillance authority extension 50 Cent meets with Pelosi, lawmakers on Capitol Hill MORE (D-Ill.) and Frederica WilsonFrederica Patricia WilsonDemocratic lawmaker tears into DeVos: You're 'out to destroy public education' Democrats lash out at DeVos over proposed changes to loan forgiveness plan Black lawmakers condemn Trump's 'lynching' remarks 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 ObamaDemocrats' self-inflicted diversity vulnerability Gaetz: We didn't impeach Obama even though 'a lot of constituents' think he abused his power Live coverage: House panel debates articles of impeachment 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 WarrenSaagar Enjeti says Buttigieg's release of McKinsey client list shows he 'caved to public pressure' On The Money: Lawmakers strike spending deal | US, China reach limited trade deal ahead of tariff deadline | Lighthizer fails to quell GOP angst over new NAFTA Bill Weld: As many as six GOP senators privately support convicting Trump MORE (D-Mass.) to rank third in the Democratic field behind Biden and Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersSaagar Enjeti says Buttigieg's release of McKinsey client list shows he 'caved to public pressure' Sanders endorses Young Turks founder Cenk Uygur for Katie Hill's former House seat Biden hires Clinton, O'Rourke alum as campaign's digital director 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 RichmondBooker unveils legislation for federal bill to ban discrimination against natural hair Hillicon Valley: Senators ask Trump to halt Huawei licenses | Warren criticizes Zuckerberg over secret dinner with Trump | Senior DHS cyber official to leave | Dems offer bill on Libra oversight Senior DHS cyber official to step down 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 Rep. Charlie Crist endorses Biden Warren introduces bill targeted at food insecurity on college campuses Harris hops past Biden in early race for Black Caucus support MORE (D-Fla.) on May 30, while Reps. A. Donald McEachinAston (Donale) Donald McEachinDemocrats unveil first bill toward goal of net-zero emissions by 2050 Hillicon Valley: Zuckerberg to testify on Libra | Extremists find home on Telegram app | Warren blasts Facebook for not removing anti-Biden ad | California outlaws facial recognition in police body cameras | China rips US tech sanctions House Democrats introduce new legislation to combat foreign election interference MORE (D-Va.), Dwight EvansDwight (Dewey) EvansOvernight Health Care — Presented by National Taxpayers Union — Buttigieg targets Warren, Sanders on health care ahead of debate | Judge overturns ObamaCare transgender protections | Poll sees support drop for 'Medicare for All' A dozen House Democrats call on EU ambassador to resign amid Ukraine scandal House Democrats blur lines on support for impeachment MORE (D-Pa.) and Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-Del.) announced their support weeks earlier. 

And Sen. Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerTrump neck and neck with top 2020 Democrats in Wisconsin: poll Booker says he will not make December debate stage White House makes push for paid family leave and child care reform 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 2020 Presidential Endorsements MORE (D) and Bonnie Watson ColemanBonnie Watson ColemanAllegations of bed bugs at Trump's Doral resort swarm Twitter A dozen House Democrats call on EU ambassador to resign amid Ukraine scandal Democrats seize on viral Sharpie hashtags to mock Trump map edit 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 MeeksOn The Money: House passes monthlong stopgap | Broader spending talks stall | Judge orders Democrats to give notice if they request Trump's NY tax returns | Progressives ramp up attacks on private equity Progressive Democrats ramp up attacks on private equity CNN: Biden likened Clinton impeachment to 'partisan lynching' in 1998 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 LewisDocumentary on John Lewis set for release next year Isakson talks up bipartisanship in Senate farewell speech Trump tax breaks for low-income neighborhoods draw scrutiny 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. GreenDemocrats reach cusp of impeachment Feehery: Losing faith in the people and the Constitution Warren, Buttigieg fight echoes 2004 campaign, serves as warning for 2020 race MORE (D-Texas), Alcee HastingsAlcee (Judge) Lamar HastingsDemocrat unveils bill requiring banks to identify suspicious activity related to guns Ethics panel investigating Rep. Hastings over relationship with staffer The 13 House Democrats who back Kavanaugh's impeachment MORE (D-Fla.) and Wm. Lacy ClayWilliam (Lacy) Lacy ClayLawmakers honor JFK on 56th anniversary of his death Trump tax breaks for low-income neighborhoods draw scrutiny Maloney wins vote for Oversight chairwoman 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 LeeBooker unveils legislation for federal bill to ban discrimination against natural hair Adam Schiff's star rises with impeachment hearings Lawmakers visit African migrants at US-Mexico border 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 ClintonBiden hires Clinton, O'Rourke alum as campaign's digital director Trump neck and neck with top 2020 Democrats in Wisconsin: poll Clinton tweets impeachment website, encourages voters to 'see the evidence for themselves' 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.”