Racial politics roil Democratic Party

Democrats who have called President TrumpDonald John TrumpFlorida GOP lawmaker says he's 'thinking' about impeachment Democrats introduce 'THUG Act' to block funding for G-7 at Trump resort Kurdish group PKK pens open letter rebuking Trump's comparison to ISIS MORE and his policies racist are now pointing fingers at one another on issues of race. 

Allegations of racial insensitivity are flying between the 2020 Democratic contenders, as well as between House Democrats, raising concerns that internecine squabbles over identity and race are tarnishing party leaders and distracting Democrats from their goal of ousting the president in 2020. 

The racially charged controversies that have swirled around former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenTrump knocks Romney as 'Democrat secret asset' in new video Giuliani asked State Dept. to grant visa for ex-Ukraine official at center of Biden allegations: report Perry won't comply with subpoena in impeachment inquiry MORE, 76, and Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiCummings to lie in state at the Capitol House Republicans 'demand the release of the rules' on impeachment Overnight Health Care — Presented by National Taxpayers Union —Dem wants more changes to Pelosi drug pricing bill | Ebola outbreak wanes, but funding lags | Johnson & Johnson recalls batch of baby powder after asbestos traces found MORE (D-Calif.), 79, have also put a spotlight on the generational rift within the party.

ADVERTISEMENT

Longtime Democratic leaders are facing new scrutiny from their younger peers over their past records. And they’re being called out for their rhetoric, which in some cases has offended the younger generation of liberals.

Frustrated lawmakers say the backbiting over race has gotten out of control. They want to see it come to an end so Democrats can return their focus to their agenda in the House and defeating Trump at the ballot box.

“It’s damaging to this party and the internal workings of the Democratic Party,” said Rep. Wm. Lacy ClayWilliam (Lacy) Lacy ClayMaloney to serve as acting Oversight chairwoman after Cummings's death The Hill's Morning Report - Trump grapples with Turkey controversy The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by National Association of Manufacturers - Trump defends Ukraine motives while attacking Biden MORE (D-Mo.). “I can tell you it’s not helpful.”

Tensions exploded on Capitol Hill this week after Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezHillicon Valley: GOP lawmakers offer election security measure | FTC Dem worries government is 'captured' by Big Tech | Lawmakers condemn Apple over Hong Kong censorship Sanders seeks spark from Ocasio-Cortez at Queens rally Biden endorsed by former Connecticut senator, 51 Massachusetts leaders MORE (D-N.Y.) accused Pelosi of singling out women of color for criticism, as divisions linger over the passage of a $4.6 billion border bill.

Pelosi has been dismissive of the influence on Capitol Hill held by Ocasio-Cortez and three other rising Democratic Party stars — Reps. Rashida TlaibRashida Harbi TlaibSanders seeks spark from Ocasio-Cortez at Queens rally Biden endorsed by former Connecticut senator, 51 Massachusetts leaders Ocasio-Cortez mourns Cummings: 'A devastating loss for our country' MORE (Mich.), Ilhan OmarIlhan OmarSanders seeks spark from Ocasio-Cortez at Queens rally Biden endorsed by former Connecticut senator, 51 Massachusetts leaders Omar calls Trump hosting G-7 at Doral 'disturbing' MORE (Minn.) and Ayanna PressleyAyanna PressleyOcasio-Cortez mourns Cummings: 'A devastating loss for our country' Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle mourn Cummings Omar endorses Sanders presidential bid MORE (Mass.) — the group of freshman female lawmakers with massive followings on social media.

Ocasio-Cortez’s remarks ignited a long-simmering feud with the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC).

CBC members, such as Clay, exploded in anger at Ocasio-Cortez for having “used the race card” and accused progressives of seeking to oust black lawmakers by endorsing their primary challengers.

The progressive group Justice Democrats, which is closely aligned with Ocasio-Cortez, is supporting primary challengers to several longtime Democrats, including Clay and Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas), a Hispanic Caucus member.

Justice Democrats have also considered a challenge to House Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem JeffriesHakeem Sekou JeffriesLawmakers from both sides of the aisle mourn Cummings House chairman: Pompeo not complying with impeachment inquiry Sunday shows - Second whistleblower grabs spotlight MORE (D-N.Y.), a CBC member who is viewed by many as a potential heir to Pelosi.

“Donald Trump has brought the question of race to the forefront of American politics, so it’s no surprise that there will be ongoing and continuous and serious and often uncomfortable public discussions on the subject,” Jeffries said. “At the end of the day, our common enemy is Donald Trump, not other members of the House Democratic Caucus.”

In the presidential race, Biden’s backers are still fuming over what they view as a dishonest characterization of his record on race by his rivals for the presidential nomination, including Sens. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisHarris campaign releases web video highlighting opposition to death penalty Sanders seeks spark from Ocasio-Cortez at Queens rally Biden seeks to fundraise off fact he's running out of money MORE (D-Calif.), 54, and Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerGabbard hits back at 'queen of warmongers' Clinton The Hill's Campaign Report: Biden camp faces new challenges Former public school teacher: Strikes 'wake-up call' for Democratic Party MORE (D-N.J.), 50.

Harris catapulted into the top tier of Democratic presidential contenders after an exchange with Biden at the first presidential debate. The California Democrat called Biden’s remarks about finding common ground with segregationist senators “hurtful,” and she attacked him for his decades-old opposition to a federal busing program aimed at integrating schools.

“I think Sen. Harris is out of control,” said Rep. A. Donald McEachinAston (Donale) Donald McEachinHillicon 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 Racial politics roil Democratic Party MORE (D-Va.), a CBC member who has endorsed Biden for president.

Booker had previously taken a dig at Biden, saying that the former vice president’s recollection of never having been addressed as “boy” by the segregationist senators was “hurtful” to black people and showed a “lack of understanding” about racial power dynamics.

Biden has slipped some in the polls since the first debate, but he remains the front-runner in the Democratic presidential primary in part because of his strong support from black voters.

Taken together, the controversies have Democrats shaking their heads over how they have reached the point of attacking one another over race. 

“They should be pointing the finger at [Senate Majority Leader] Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellMcConnell: Trump's troop pull back in Syria a 'grave strategic mistake' Overnight Defense — Presented by Boeing — Trump insists Turkey wants cease-fire | Fighting continues in Syrian town | Pentagon chief headed to Mideast | Mattis responds to criticism from Trump TSA head rules himself out for top DHS job   MORE [R-Ky.] and Donald Trump,” said Rep. 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-N.J.), the first black woman elected to Congress from New Jersey. 

“I don’t think anyone is calling Joe Biden a racist. I don’t think anyone has any reason to call Nancy Pelosi a racist. I think that we can have these bold discussions and people can disagree on certain issues. But this is not helpful, not helpful at all,” she added.

ADVERTISEMENT

Republicans are relishing the fight, describing it as the culmination of the left’s obsession with identity politics.

“Madam Speaker, welcome to the true nature of identity politics - where you’re accused of being racist for no reason at all, and where intellectually lazy insults are used against you as a way to replace substantive debate of your argument or idea,” Rep. Dan CrenshawDaniel CrenshawGeorge Conway hits Republicans for not saying Trump's name while criticizing policy The absurdity of President Trump picking the Democratic nominee Missouri Republican wins annual craft brewing competition for lawmakers MORE (R-Texas) said over Twitter.

Some liberals interviewed by The Hill described the fighting as driven by the generational divide rather than the belief that some in the party harbor racial animus.

“There’s an old guard and a new guard, and there’s going to be some friction there,” said one Democratic lawmaker who requested anonymity.

Activism around racial issues has been a hallmark of the ascendant left wing of the party, led by Ocasio-Cortez.

Cornell William Brooks, the former president of the NAACP and a current professor at the Harvard Kennedy School, said the raging debate is largely the result of a generational divide and a matter of style.

The young liberal lawmakers, Brooks said, have enormous influence on social media and have used their platform to draw attention to what they view as racial biases, whereas veterans of the civil rights movement are focused more on institutional or explicit racial inequality. 

“These young lawmakers came of age politically at a moment in the country when there has been unprecedented levels of activism,” Brooks said. “They practice politics as protest, whereas Pelosi practices it through the art of compromise in governing, so this has a lot to do with generation, not just race.”

“For younger voters, they’re used to expressing their thoughts about racial, ethnic or gender identity implications through tweeted speech, whereas the older generation is more focused on intent rather than what is implied,” Brooks added.