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Black Dems warn of erosion of civil rights

Black Dems warn of erosion of civil rights
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Leading black Democrats warned Tuesday that the civil rights victories of the last 50 years are under threat.

Speaking on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, the lawmakers decried conservative efforts to cut programs disproportionately beneficial to African-Americans and other minorities including Medicaid, public education and voting protections.

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The Democrats suggested that the conservative rhetoric surrounding the Republican presidential primary has only exacerbated the threat, and they vowed to fight back from Capitol Hill.

“I think that all of us are aware that anything that has happened before in the history of this great country can, in fact, happen again,” said Rep. James Clyburn (S.C.), the third-ranking House Democrat and prominent member of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC).

“We know from our history that no matter how many times we make forward steps, there will always be someone out there looking to move us back,” he added. “We hear it all around us today. They aren't just dog whistles. These people have now begun to make howling noises of wolves. We know who they are; we know what they stand for; we came here today to say to each and every one of them that we are not — will not — be moved.”

CBC Chairman G.K. ButterfieldGeorge (G.K.) Kenneth ButterfieldThe Memo: How liberal will the Biden presidency be? Democrats vow to go 'bold' — with or without GOP CBC 'unequivocally' endorses Shalanda Young for White House budget chief MORE (D-N.C.) echoed that message, saying an equal America “has not been realized” and promising “to fight against discriminatory and racially motivated tactics that disenfranchise thousands of black voters.”

“We know firsthand that America's journey for justice is not over,” Butterfield said.

The remarks came as part of an NAACP-sponsored march — dubbed "America's Journey for Justice" — that began in Selma, Ala., last month and culminated in Washington on Tuesday. The 860-mile trek was designed to highlight the group's policy concerns, including efforts to boost low-income wages, improve the quality of public schools, reform the criminal justice system and secure protections for voters at the polls.

The current budget fight in Congress could affect any number of those programs, and Democratic leaders have vowed not to support any spending bills that include the domestic cuts established by the 2011 Budget Control Act.

If Congress fails to reach an agreement by Oct. 1, large parts of the federal government will shut down.

The Democrats are also urging an update to the Voting Rights Act, parts of which were gutted by the Supreme Court in 2013. Bipartisan legislation to update the landmark legislation has been introduced in the House, but GOP leaders say the proposal is unnecessary because existing law provides sufficient voter protections.

Race-related issues have also gained prominence off of Capitol Hill this year. A string of tragedies involving the death of black men at the hands of police officers has given life to the Black Lives Matter movement and amplified the calls for an overhaul of the criminal justice system. And the debate over immigration reform has only intensified amid the presidential race, particularly in the figure of Donald Trump, who has risen to GOP front-runner status largely by taking a hard line against illegal immigrants. 

Clyburn noted that many of the social programs in place today — including Medicare and Medicaid, education initiatives under Head Start, the elimination of federal immigration quotas and the protections provided under the Voting Rights Act — were all adopted in 1965 as part of the Great Society agenda of President Johnson. Fifty years later, Clyburn said, those initiatives need to be protected.

“We will not go back on that tremendous legacy,” Clyburn said.