Black Caucus sees power grow with new Democratic majority

Black Caucus sees power grow with new Democratic majority
© Greg Nash

The Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) is set to hold unprecedented influence after a House GOP majority in which not a single African-American chaired a committee.

Five members of the CBC are leading committees in the newly empowered Democratic majority. And two CBC members, Majority Whip James Clyburn (S.C.) and Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem JeffriesHakeem Sekou JeffriesThe Hill's Morning Report - Pelosi remains firm despite new impeachment push Overnight Defense: Trump officials say efforts to deter Iran are working | Trump taps new Air Force secretary | House panel passes defense bill that limits border wall funds House Democrats press leaders to start Trump impeachment MORE (N.Y.), are in the top rungs of the House Democratic leadership.

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Those prominent perches are only part of the influence the CBC wields in the Democratic caucus.

The CBC now comprises a record 55 members, which includes two nonvoting delegates and Sens. Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerHarris readies a Phase 2 as she seeks to rejuvenate campaign T.I., Charlamagne Tha God advocate for opportunity zones on Capitol Hill Overnight Health Care — Presented by PCMA — CBO officials testify on pros and cons of 'Medicare for All' | Booker vows to form White House office on abortion rights | Measles outbreak spreads with cases now in half the country MORE (D-N.J.) and Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump says no legislation until Dems end probes Harris readies a Phase 2 as she seeks to rejuvenate campaign 2020 Dems put spotlight on disabilities issues MORE (D-Calif.). That’s up from the previous record of 49, from the last Congress.

Rep. Elijah CummingsElijah Eugene CummingsNancy Pelosi fends off impeachment wave — for now House Democrats, Trump lawyers ask appeals court to expedite subpoena case Lawmakers call for 'time out' on facial recognition tech MORE (D-Md.) will be the face of what’s expected to be a barrage of investigations into the Trump administration as chairman of the Oversight and Reform Committee. Rep. Bennie ThompsonBennie Gordon ThompsonDHS suggests new role for cybersecurity staff — helping with border crisis Hillicon Valley: Trump takes flak for not joining anti-extremism pact | Phone carriers largely end sharing of location data | Huawei pushes back on ban | Florida lawmakers demand to learn counties hacked by Russians | Feds bust 0M cybercrime group Trump takes flak for not joining anti-extremism pact MORE (D-Miss.) will oversee immigration, election security and counterterrorism issues atop the Homeland Security Committee, while Rep. Bobby ScottRobert (Bobby) Cortez ScottDem lawmaker says 'adversity score' shows debate over 'usefulness' of SAT is 'not over' CBC member brushes off Biden's past opposition to school busing Dem lawmaker says U.S. has 'drifted backwards' on school integration MORE (D-Va.) will chair the Education and Labor Committee with authority over college affordability, the minimum wage and child care policies.

Two CBC members are marking milestones as the first women and first African-Americans to chair their respective panels: Rep. Maxine WatersMaxine Moore WatersKey House committee obtains subpoenaed Trump financial documents from two banks: report Nancy Pelosi fends off impeachment wave — for now On The Money: Judge rules banks can give Trump records to House | Mnuchin pegs debt ceiling deadline as 'late summer' | Democrats see momentum in Trump tax return fight | House rebukes Trump changes to consumer agency MORE (D-Calif.) atop the Financial Services Committee and Rep. Eddie Bernice JohnsonEddie Bernice JohnsonReturning to the moon to gain soft political power Some Dem chairmen have changed tune on Trump impeachment Hillicon Valley — Presented by CTIA and America's wireless industry — Prosecutors used FISA warrant to get info on Huawei | Study finds discrimination in Facebook ads | Bezos retains voting control over ex-wife's Amazon stocks MORE (D-Texas) overseeing the Science, Space and Technology Committee. 

The changes come after the House GOP committee chair roster offered little racial diversity for eight years. Former Rep. Ileana Ros-LehtinenIleana Carmen Ros-LehtinenK Street giants scoop up coveted ex-lawmakers Ex-GOP Rep. Denham heads to lobbying firm K Street boom extends under Trump, House Dems MORE (Fla.), the first Latina elected to Congress, led the Foreign Affairs Committee during part of the GOP majority. Rep. Devin NunesDevin Gerald NunesHouse Intel postpones enforcement action after DOJ offer to share some Mueller files Roger Stone considers suing to discover if he was spied on by FBI Overnight Defense: Congressional leaders receive classified briefing on Iran | Trump on war: 'I hope not' | Key Republican calls threats credible | Warren plan targets corporate influence at Pentagon MORE (Calif.), who is of Portuguese descent, was the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and remains the panel’s top Republican. Both have also been members of the Congressional Hispanic Conference.

It’s a sore spot for Republicans that’s drawing a sharp contrast with the makeup of the new Democratic majority.

“The Republican Party needs to understand that the makeup of the United States has changed,” CBC Chairwoman Karen BassKaren Ruth BassMueller mystery: Will he ever testify to Congress? Dems probe DOJ's handling of civil rights violations by law enforcement The Hill's Morning Report - Barr held in contempt after Trump invokes executive privilege, angering Dems MORE (D-Calif.) said. “The Republican side of the aisle looks like the America of the past.”

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Diversity in committee leadership is already giving way to a change in policy priorities.

Waters recently told Vox that she plans to create a Financial Services subcommittee specifically focused on diversity and inclusion. 

“We believe that not only are we going to be able to define very clearly for everybody where there is discrimination but also have recommendations and try to work with all of the entities that are involved to eliminate it,” Waters told Vox.

Waters has openly invoked her personal identity. Indeed, Waters went viral last year for challenging Republicans’ move to repeal a consumer protection agency’s guidance meant to ensure lenders couldn’t charge minorities more for auto loans. 

“I am more offended as an African-American woman than you will ever be,” Waters told Rep. Mike KellyGeorge (Mike) Joseph KellyMcCain and Dingell: Inspiring a stronger Congress Congress can retire the retirement crisis Permanence for CBMTRA is a small business win across America MORE (R-Pa.) in a fiery House floor debate.

Waters already has a nationwide following and, beyond her diversity and inclusion efforts, is sure to make headlines on other key oversight priorities. She has expressed interest in Deutsche Bank’s financial records of President TrumpDonald John TrumpFeinstein, Iranian foreign minister had dinner amid tensions: report The Hill's Morning Report - Trump says no legislation until Dems end probes Harris readies a Phase 2 as she seeks to rejuvenate campaign MORE and the Trump administration’s efforts to weaken the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Johnson, for her part, wants to make promoting minority participation in the STEM workforce one of her policy priorities while leading the Science Committee. She plans to reintroduce legislation that would require federal agencies to collect demographic data on federal research grant recipients and promote research on women’s and minorities’ STEM trajectories. 

Johnson has firsthand experience with diversity in STEM fields: she was also the first woman and African-American to serve as chief psychiatric nurse at the Dallas Veterans Affairs Hospital.

“This experience has contributed to my understanding how crucial and necessary it is to promote the participation of minorities in our STEM workforces,” Johnson said in a statement to The Hill.

Thompson, meanwhile, acknowledged that hailing from a state with a history of racial violence informs his perspective while handling domestic terrorism issues, particularly with the rise of hate crimes from right-wing extremists in recent years.

“It allows me to look at the issue more broadly than perhaps someone who is from another part of the country. Being an African-American uniquely positions me to be sensitive to domestic terrorism,” Thompson said in an interview.

The current slate of ranking Republicans on committees is all white and currently includes just two women: Rep. Kay GrangerNorvell (Kay) Kay GrangerChances for disaster aid deal slip amid immigration fight Overnight Defense: Trump officials say efforts to deter Iran are working | Trump taps new Air Force secretary | House panel passes defense bill that limits border wall funds House panel advances billion energy bill, defying Trump MORE (Texas) at Appropriations and Rep. Virginia FoxxVirginia Ann FoxxThe GOP's commitment to electing talented women can help party retake the House When disaster relief hurts Lobbying World MORE (N.C.) at Education and Labor. 

There’s been little opportunity for GOP leaders to elevate African-Americans in their caucus, simply because there are so few of them. Rep. Will HurdWilliam Ballard HurdDemocrats talk subpoena for Mueller Here are the eight Republicans who voted with Democrats on the Equality Act House approves anti-LGBT discrimination Equality Act MORE (R-Texas) is currently the only African-American in the 199-member House Republican Conference.

But CBC members have gradually gained more and more influence over the years in the Democratic caucus.

The power CBC members hold now, Thompson said, is “a sign that we’ve come a long way from the belly of ships to the No. 3 person of the House of Representatives and those chairmanships.”