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 JeffriesBipartisan think tank to honor lawmakers who offer 'a positive tenor' GOP leader needles Dems on anti-Semitism resolution Dems under fire put brakes on Omar resolution 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 BookerPoll: Biden leads among millennial voters Booker: Racists think Trump's racist Booker vows to reverse 'ridiculous' transgender military ban if elected president MORE (D-N.J.) and Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisBiden weighing an early announcement of running mate: report Poll: Biden leads among millennial voters O'Rourke faces sharp backlash from left MORE (D-Calif.). That’s up from the previous record of 49, from the last Congress.

Rep. Elijah CummingsElijah Eugene CummingsHouse Dems renew push for government contractor back pay Cummings demands ex-Fox News reporter share information on Stormy Daniels payments The Hill's Morning Report — Trump readies first veto after latest clash with Senate GOP 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 ThompsonLawmakers contemplate a tough political sell: Raising their pay Exclusive: Biden to run for White House, says Dem lawmaker Nielsen testifies: Five things you need to know MORE (D-Miss.) will oversee immigration, election security and counterterrorism issues atop the Homeland Security Committee, while Rep. Bobby ScottRobert (Bobby) Cortez ScottTop Dems blast administration's proposed ObamaCare changes Virginia congressional delegation says it's 'devastated by’ Richmond Turmoil The Hill's 12:30 Report: AOC unveils Green New Deal measure | Trump hits Virginia Dems | Dems begin hearings to get Trump tax returns 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 WatersDems concerned impeachment will make Trump 'appear like a victim,' says pollster Trump calls Biden 'low I.Q. individual' after verbal slip On The Money: Senate rejects border declaration in rebuke to Trump | Dems press Mnuchin on Trump tax returns | Waters says Wells Fargo should fire its CEO MORE (D-Calif.) atop the Financial Services Committee and Rep. Eddie Bernice JohnsonEddie Bernice JohnsonHillicon Valley: Doctors press tech to crack down on anti-vax content | Facebook, Instagram suffer widespread outages | Spotify hits Apple with antitrust complaint | FCC rejects calls to delay 5G auction House technology committee leaders ask to postpone 5G spectrum auction Overnight Energy: Interior authorized 0M to open parks during shutdown | Inslee launching 2020 bid with 'Climate Mission Tour' | Dems raise red flags over planned White House climate council 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-LehtinenThe women in white and the trails they blaze Lobbying World Former GOP chairman Royce joins lobbying shop MORE (Fla.), the first Latina elected to Congress, led the Foreign Affairs Committee during part of the GOP majority. Rep. Devin NunesDevin Gerald NunesNunes sues Twitter, users for more than 0M Ex-House Intel chair: Intel panel is wrong forum to investigate Trump's finances Nunes warns of the 'straw police' in California 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 BassAdvocate says Native American women more likely to be victims of violence This week: Trump set for Senate setback on emergency declaration The Hill's Morning Report - Pelosi's challenge: Getting Dems back on same page 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 KellyIRS watchdog urges agency to provide more underpayment penalty relief Congress needs to unite and pass this key infrastructure legislation Dems build case for obtaining Trump's tax returns 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 TrumpWarren: 'White supremacists pose a threat to the United States like any other terrorist group' National Enquirer paid 0,000 for Bezos texts: report Santorum: Trump should 'send emails to a therapist' instead of tweeting 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 GrangerOn The Money: Trump issues first veto, warning of 'reckless' resolution | US hits Russia with new sanctions | Dems renew push for contractor back pay | Lawmakers seek probe into undocumented workers at Trump businesses House Dems renew push for government contractor back pay The Hill's Morning Report — Cohen testimony turns up heat on Trump associates MORE (Texas) at Appropriations and Rep. Virginia FoxxVirginia Ann FoxxGOP rep 'disappointed' by the number of Republican women in Congress The Hill's Morning Report - Pelosi's challenge: Getting Dems back on same page The Hill's 12:30 Report: Cohen back on the hot seat 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 HurdThe 25 Republicans who defied Trump on emergency declaration The 31 Trump districts that will determine the next House majority Hillicon Valley: US threatens to hold intel from Germany over Huawei | GOP senator targets FTC over privacy | Bipartisan bill would beef up 'internet of things' security | Privacy groups seize on suspended NSA program | Tesla makes U-turn 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.”