Hoyer expects reparations bill to get a floor vote

Hoyer expects reparations bill to get a floor vote
© Greg Nash

House Majority Leader Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerThis week: House Dems voting to hold Barr, Ross in contempt House Democrats seek to move past rifts with minimum wage bill Progressive groups slam House Democratic leadership's 'escalating attacks' on progressives MORE (D-Md.) said Wednesday that he has every intention of bringing to the floor a proposal providing reparations for the descendants of slaves.

"It will get a vote if it comes out of the committee; I expect it to come out of the committee," Hoyer said during a press briefing in the Capitol.

As Hoyer spoke, Democrats on the Judiciary Committee's subpanel on the Constitution were holding a historic hearing on the legislation, with testimony from prominent black figures like the author Ta-Nehisi Coates, the actor Danny Glover and Sen. Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerBooker prison reform bill would give older prisoners a 'second look' Booker to unveil plan for older Americans' long-term health care: report Judd Gregg: Counting the costs of Democrats' desires MORE (D-N.J.), a 2020 presidential hopeful.

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The chairman of the full Judiciary Committee, Rep. Jerrold NadlerJerrold (Jerry) Lewis NadlerTrump knocks Mueller after deal struck for him to testify House Democrats request briefing on Epstein, Acosta Nadler apologized after repeatedly calling Hope Hicks 'Ms. Lewandowski' at hearing MORE (D-N.Y.), is a sponsor of the legislation, but he's given no indication when — or if — he intends to hold his own hearing on the bill.

Sponsored by Rep. Sheila Jackson LeeSheila Jackson LeeO'Rourke says he and his wife are descended from slave owners Reparations bill gains traction in the House Senate Democrats wish talk on reparations would go away MORE (D-Texas), the legislation would create a commission charged with studying the institution of slavery in the U.S. — from its inception in 1565, until the end of the Civil War, in 1865 — and recommend ways to compensate descendants.

Supporters say the proposal will help identify strategies for closing the vast gaps between black and white Americans when it comes to jobs, wages, housing, accumulated wealth and countless other measures of financial well-being. The commission's recommendations are designed to be comprehensive, touching on policies as varied as housing, lending, education and criminal justice reform, according to proponents.

Yet supporters are also fighting a frequent public misconception: that reparations refer exclusively to writing a check to slavery's descendants. For that reason, the legislation could represent a tough vote for swing-district Democrats fighting to win reelection next year. A number of lawmakers have predicted that Democratic leaders would keep the bill off the floor to protect those members.

Complicating the equation for reparation supporters and Democratic leaders, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellWhat Democrats should say about guns This week: House Dems voting to hold Barr, Ross in contempt Juan Williams: GOP in a panic over Mueller MORE (R-Ky.) said Tuesday that he won't consider the bill in the upper chamber.

"I don't think reparations for something that happened 150 years ago for whom none us currently living are responsible is a good idea," McConnell told reporters in the Capitol. "We've tried to deal with our original sin of slavery by fighting a civil war, by passing landmark civil rights legislation. We elected an African American president."

Appearing at Wednesday's House hearing, Coates fired back at the Kentucky Republican.

"We grant that Mr. McConnell was not alive for Appomattox," Coates said, referring to the battle that effectively ended the Civil War. "But he was alive for the electrocution of George Stinney. He was alive for the blinding of Isaac Woodard. He was alive to witness kleptocracy in his native Alabama in a regime premised on electoral theft."

Hoyer, for his part, appeared undeterred by McConnell's vow to ignore the bill, characterizing the country's gaping racial disparities as a critical issue Congress needs to explore. Jackson Lee's bill, he said, is a good place to start.

"As you know, it sets up a commission to look at how we try to compensate for the extraordinary racism and denigration of so many people that then put them in a position where they were substantially disadvantaged in the competition for jobs, income, equity," Hoyer said. "So I think that's a very serious issue we need to look at."