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Racial politics roil Democratic Party

Democrats who have called President TrumpDonald TrumpBiden to sign executive order aimed at increasing voting access Albany Times Union editorial board calls for Cuomo's resignation Advocates warn restrictive voting bills could end Georgia's record turnout 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 BidenBiden to sign executive order aimed at increasing voting access Myanmar military conducts violent night raids Confidence in coronavirus vaccines has grown with majority now saying they want it MORE, 76, and Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiTrump White House associate tied to Proud Boys before riot via cell phone data Greene sounds off on GOP after Hill story 'Bloody Sunday' to be commemorated for first time without John Lewis MORE (D-Calif.), 79, have also put a spotlight on the generational rift within the party.

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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 ClayProgressives target Manchin, Sinema with new PAC Cori Bush dismisses concerns of being 'co-opted' by establishment Rep. Bush calls Trump a 'white supremacist president' on House floor MORE (D-Mo.). “I can tell you it’s not helpful.”

Tensions exploded on Capitol Hill this week after Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezProgressives won't oppose bill over limits on stimulus checks Bipartisan bill would ban lawmakers from buying, selling stocks The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - J&J vax rollout today; third woman accuses Cuomo 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 TlaibSinema pushes back on criticism of her vote against minimum wage, implying that it's sexist Progressives push White House to overturn wage ruling Six ways to visualize a divided America MORE (Mich.), Ilhan OmarIlhan Omar Omar: 'Disappointing' that we're 'sending money to less people than the Trump administration' House approves George Floyd Justice in Policing Act House Democrats' ambitious agenda set to run into Senate blockade MORE (Minn.) and Ayanna PressleyAyanna PressleyPressley says image of Black custodial staff cleaning up Capitol after Jan. 6 riot 'haunts' her DeJoy apologizes for mail delays while defending Postal Service changes DeJoy set for grilling by House Oversight panel 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 JeffriesJustice Dept. pledges to address hate crimes against Asian Americans Xi'an Famous Foods CEO warns of anti-Asian hate crimes in NYC Democrats snipe on policy, GOP brawls over Trump 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 HarrisBiden takes victory lap after Senate passes coronavirus relief package It will be Vice (or) President Harris against Gov. DeSantis in 2024 — bet on it Trump sued by Democrat over mob attack on Capitol MORE (D-Calif.), 54, and Cory BookerCory Booker'Bloody Sunday' to be commemorated for first time without John Lewis It's in America's best interest to lead global COVID-19 vaccine distribution ABC names new deputy political director, weekend White House correspondent 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 McEachinLawmakers commemorate one-year anniversary of Arbery's killing Lobbying world Lawmakers share New Year's messages: 'Cheers to brighter days ahead' 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 McConnellBiden takes victory lap after Senate passes coronavirus relief package GOP votes in unison against COVID-19 relief bill Senate approves sweeping coronavirus measure in partisan vote MORE [R-Ky.] and Donald Trump,” said Rep. Bonnie Watson ColemanBonnie Watson ColemanBiden takes victory lap after Senate passes coronavirus relief package Senate approves sweeping coronavirus measure in partisan vote Progressives won't oppose bill over limits on stimulus checks 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.

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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 CrenshawA nuclear frontier Crenshaw pours cold water on 2024 White House bid: 'Something will emerge' Six ways to visualize a divided America 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.