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 JeffriesLewandowski, Democrats tangle at testy hearing Words matter, except to Democrats, when it involves impeaching Trump Democrats face key moment on impeachment drive MORE (N.Y.), are in the top rungs of the House Democratic leadership.

ADVERTISEMENT

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 BookerMark Mellman: The most important moment in history? Katie Pavlich: The Democrats' desperate do-overs Biden leads in new national poll, Warren close behind in second place MORE (D-N.J.) and Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisKavanaugh impeachment push hits Capitol buzz saw Mark Mellman: The most important moment in history? Biden leads in new national poll, Warren close behind in second place MORE (D-Calif.). That’s up from the previous record of 49, from the last Congress.

Rep. Elijah CummingsElijah Eugene CummingsMajority of voters say federal officials staying at Trump hotels is a conflict of interest The Hill's Morning Report - What is Trump's next move on Iran? House committee launches investigation into Transportation Secretary Chao 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 ThompsonTop Democrat demands answers from CBP on security of biometric data Hillicon Valley: 8chan owner defends platform before Congress | Facebook launches dating feature | New York City sues T-Mobile | Top NSA cyber official names ransomware as 2020 threat | Blue Dog Dems urge action on election security 8chan owner defends platform in testimony before Congress MORE (D-Miss.) will oversee immigration, election security and counterterrorism issues atop the Homeland Security Committee, while Rep. Bobby ScottRobert (Bobby) Cortez ScottHouse panel delays vote on surprise medical bills legislation Ten notable Democrats who do not favor impeachment Critics fear widespread damage from Trump 'public charge' rule 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 WatersBipartisan housing finance reform on the road less taken Manufacturing group leads coalition to urge Congress to reauthorize Ex-Im Bank Democrats' impeachment message leads to plenty of head-scratching MORE (D-Calif.) atop the Financial Services Committee and Rep. Eddie Bernice JohnsonEddie Bernice JohnsonDemocrats ramp up calls to investigate NOAA Overnight Energy: House moves to block Trump drilling | House GOP rolls out proposal to counter offshore drilling ban | calls mount for NOAA probe The Hill's Morning Report — Trump applauds two-year budget deal with 0 billion spending hike 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-LehtinenRepublican Salazar seeks rematch with Shalala in key Miami House district Latina leaders: 'It's a women's world more than anything' Ex-GOP Rep. Roskam joins lobbying firm MORE (Fla.), the first Latina elected to Congress, led the Foreign Affairs Committee during part of the GOP majority. Rep. Devin NunesDevin Gerald NunesWe've lost sight of the real scandal Twitter won't disclose who's running parody accounts being sued by Devin Nunes Nunes campaign drops lawsuit against constituents who accused him of being a 'fake farmer' 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 BassCBC marks 400th anniversary of slaves' arrival in US Senate could protect girls from sexual exploitation — but will it? King incites furor with abortion, rape and incest remarks MORE (D-Calif.) said. “The Republican side of the aisle looks like the America of the past.”

ADVERTISEMENT
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 KellyHouse votes to repeal ObamaCare's 'Cadillac tax' GOP lawmaker: 'I'm a person of color. I'm white.' Trump signs bipartisan IRS reform bill 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 TrumpJimmy Carter: 'I hope there's an age limit' on presidency White House fires DHS general counsel: report Trump to cap California trip with visit to the border 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 GrangerLobbying world House approves bill increasing federal worker pay House approves 3 billion spending package MORE (Texas) at Appropriations and Rep. Virginia FoxxVirginia Ann Foxx58 GOP lawmakers vote against disaster aid bill The GOP's commitment to electing talented women can help party retake the House When disaster relief hurts 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 HurdGOP struggles with retirement wave Here are the lawmakers who aren't seeking reelection in 2020 Pelosi: GOP retirements indicate they'll be in the minority, with Democrat in the White House 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.”