Democrats see victory in Trump culture war

Democrats are taking aggressive steps to highlight President TrumpDonald John TrumpDeWine tests negative for coronavirus a second time Several GOP lawmakers express concern over Trump executive orders Beirut aftermath poses test for US aid to frustrating ally MORE’s focus on the hot-button cultural topics of race and heritage, betting it will play to their party’s advantage in November.

Democrats have embraced the Black Lives Matter campaign, and are now moving swiftly to carve out a clear distinction between the parties when it comes to issues of racial injustice.

The movement has spiked in popularity since the brutal death of George Floyd in police custody in May, and Democrats are hoping to tap that momentum not only to move long-sought legislative reforms — which have little chance of being signed by Trump — but also to attract voters to the party in November.

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“In this historic moment, it is critical that we listen to and trust the leadership of Black activists around the country,” Rep. Rashida TlaibRashida Harbi TlaibEthics Committee orders Tlaib to refund campaign ,800 for salary payments HuffPost reporter discusses progressives' successful showing on Tuesday Minneapolis Star Tribune endorses Ilhan Omar's primary challenger MORE (D-Mich.) said Tuesday, promoting legislation to shift police funding to other community services.

“They have been on the front lines in defense of Black lives for decades, and it is our responsibility as legislators to hear them, respect them and follow their example,” she said. 

Last month, House Democrats passed broad-based criminal justice reforms designed to eradicate racial profiling and police brutality. Days before that, Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiPelosi, Schumer slam Trump executive orders, call for GOP to come back to negotiating table Trump signs executive orders after coronavirus relief talks falter Sunday shows preview: White House, congressional Democrats unable to breach stalemate over coronavirus relief MORE (D-Calif.) ordered the removal of four portraits of Confederate figures displayed outside the House chamber.

And on Monday, Pelosi and members of her leadership team announced that the House Democratic Caucus — with its most diverse membership on record — had adopted a new internal rule encouraging lawmaker offices to prioritize diversity in their hiring practices. 

Democratic appropriators are further charging ahead this week with government funding bills that seek to remove Confederate symbols from the Capitol and national parks — setting up a collision course with Trump, who has vowed to veto any effort that he views as a dismantling of history.

Trump in recent weeks has doubled down on the “America First” message he rode to a stunning victory in 2016. The message attracted the support of white, working-class voters who helped the president win crucial Midwestern states that were traditionally Democratic strongholds.

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Yet the country’s political environment is far different in 2020 than it was during Trump’s inaugural victory. And Floyd’s death has prompted a national reckoning on systemic racism, providing a very different context than four years ago.

Trump in recent days has bashed NASCAR for banning the Confederate flag, attacked sports teams that are considering changing their names deemed offensive to Native Americans, referred to the coronavirus as the “Kung flu” or the “China virus,” called New York City’s decision to paint “Black Lives Matter” on Fifth Avenue a “symbol of hate” and vowed to veto a defense spending bill if it orders erasing the names of Confederate generals from U.S. military bases.

White House counselor Kellyanne ConwayKellyanne Elizabeth ConwayLincoln Project ad dubs Jared Kushner the 'Secretary of Failure' Watchdog group accuses Stephen Miller of violating Hatch Act with Biden comments Hillicon Valley: Trump raises idea of delaying election, faces swift bipartisan pushback | Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google release earnings reports | Senators ask Justice Department to investigate TikTok, Zoom MORE defended those positions on Tuesday, describing Trump as a “visionary” who is simply being “positive and patriotic.” While liberals attack Trump online, she said, the president has advanced policies, like school vouchers and tax cuts, to help minorities. 

“Here is my main problem with cancel culture, ripping down statues, and the whole like: How does it get one more kid of color, who is in a failing school, a better opportunity, better education?” she said in a Fox News interview. 

In the eyes of Trump’s Democratic critics, the president is leaning on divisive cultural issues both to energize the politics of white resentment and shift the nation’s attention away from the fast-moving spread of COVID-19 across the country. And a number of Republicans are voicing similar concerns, privately pressing their White House ally to drop the talk of race and focus on his policy agenda for a second term. 

“I believe the majority of Americans want some calm and stability, not focusing upon divisive issues that most days impact their lives very little,” a GOP lawmaker told The Hill. “I ask again — what is his vision for the next term if he wins? What is his vision of the future of America?”

But the issue of Confederate symbols also divides Republicans. While some GOP lawmakers support Democrats’ proposals to remove Confederate imagery from military bases and elsewhere, others — particularly from Southern states — are resistant. 

“The soldiers in my district have valiantly served and don’t deserve to be unjustly punished because of the name on the front gate,” said Rep. John CarterJohn Rice CarterDonna Imam wins Democratic runoff to face Rep. John Carter House panel advances bill banning construction on bases with Confederate names Democrats see victory in Trump culture war MORE (R-Texas), a senior appropriator whose district includes Fort Hood — which is named after the Confederate Gen. John Bell Hood.

Democrats’ plans later this month to consider appropriations bills will force Republicans to take a stand on Confederate imagery on multiple fronts.

A spending bill for legislative branch operations includes a provision directing the Architect of the Capitol to remove statues of people who served the Confederacy, as well as four other figures with histories of advocating for white supremacy, and put them in storage within 45 days. The legislation specifically targets artwork depicting people like Roger Taney, the former Supreme Court chief justice who authored the 1857 Dred Scott ruling declaring that Black people shouldn’t be considered citizens, and John Calhoun, the former vice president and member of Congress who was a proponent of slavery.

Another spending bill for the Interior Department would order the National Park Service to remove “all physical Confederate commemorative works” including statues and memorials within 180 days. It would also prohibit using taxpayer funds to buy Confederate flags unless they are to provide historical context.

Two other spending bills would allot $1 million for the Army to rename any installations and streets honoring people who served the Confederacy and prohibit funding for construction projects on military installations named after Confederate officers unless they are being renamed. They reflect a similar provision in the annual defense policy bill also slated for a House floor vote later this month that requires the renaming of military bases named after Confederate officers.

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Rep. Tim RyanTimothy (Tim) RyanThe Hill's Coronavirus Report: HHS Secretary Azar says US plans to have tens of millions of vaccine doses this fall; Kremlin allegedly trying to hack vaccine research Democrats see victory in Trump culture war House Democrat calls for 'real adult discussion' on lawmaker pay MORE (D-Ohio), the chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee responsible for the legislative branch funding bill, framed it as one step lawmakers can take on their own turf as “part of a larger national debate.”

“We need to make a statement now on something we can control: the removal of statues that many visitors to the Capitol find offensive,” Ryan said Tuesday.

Juliegrace Brufke contributed