Senate Democrats wish talk on reparations would go away

Senate Democrats wish talk on reparations would go away
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Senate Democrats are not fans of legislation on reparations for slavery, which has become a hot topic in the 2020 presidential campaign.

Democratic lawmakers acknowledge that slavery is a terrible stain on the nation’s history and that African Americans were subjected to unjust and racist laws for decades after abolition.

But the question of figuring out who should pay for economic harm accrued over hundreds of years is a political land mine.

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Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinCalifornia Democrat Christy Smith launches first TV ad in bid for Katie Hill's former House seat Biden wins endorsement of Sacramento mayor Roberts under pressure from both sides in witness fight MORE (Calif.), the senior Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, said she understands why some thought leaders, such as author Ta-Nehisi Coates, are calling for reparations, but warned the issue is divisive.

“I understand why. I also understand the wound that it opens and the trials and tribulations it’s going to bring about. Some things are just better left alone and I think that’s one of those things,” she said.

“This is a major blemish on American democracy that has lasted for over 100 years now,” she said of slavery and discriminatory laws that followed the Civil War. “It’s not going to change and we have to learn from it and I think we have.”

Many Democrats don’t want to talk about whether reparations should be considered.

“No comment,” said Sen. Jack ReedJohn (Jack) Francis ReedOvernight Defense: Veterans group seeks Trump apology for comments on brain injuries | Pentagon says dozens of troops suffered traumatic injuries after attack | Trump unveils Space Force logo Dozens of US troops suffered traumatic brain injuries after Iran missile strikes Six mayors making a difference MORE (D-R.I.), who punctuated his answer with a slice of his hand.

Sen. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenHillicon Valley — Presented by Philip Morris International — Wyden asks NSA to investigate White House cybersecurity | Commerce withdraws Huawei rule after Pentagon objects | Warren calls on Brazil to drop Greenwald charges Wyden vows push to force release of Khashoggi assessment Wyden calls on NSA to examine White House cybersecurity following Bezos hack MORE (D-Ore.) said he was too busy to weigh in on the complex topic.

“I can’t deal with a big issue when I’m on the fly,” he said as he hustled to a meeting in the Capitol.

Sen. Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahySenators ask FDA to crack down on non-dairy milks, cheeses Lawmaker wants Chinese news outlet to register as foreign agent Overnight Defense: Book says Trump called military leaders 'dopes and babies' | House reinvites Pompeo for Iran hearing | Dems urge Esper to reject border wall funding request MORE (D-Vt.) said “I saw something in the press about it. I haven’t even looked at it.”

“I’ll be happy to look at it,” he added.

Support for reparations has steadily grown since June 2014 when Coates, as a writer for The Atlantic magazine, wrote his landmark essay: “The Case for Reparations.”

The subject gained more prominence last week when Rep. Sheila Jackson LeeSheila Jackson LeePatrick backs reparations in unveiling 'Equity Agenda for Black Americans' The US should work to counter India's actions against the people of Kashmir Sheila Jackson Lee tops colleagues in House floor speaking days over past decade MORE (D-Texas), a member of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties and sponsor of the House reparations measure, held a hearing on reparations at which Coates testified. 

On the campaign trail, Sen. Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerBlack caucus in Nevada: 'Notion that Biden has all of black vote is not true' The Hill's 12:30 Report: House managers to begin opening arguments on day two Patrick backs reparations in unveiling 'Equity Agenda for Black Americans' MORE (D-N.J.) has spearheaded the push for reparations. He is the sponsor of the Senate bill that would set up a commission to study the impact of slavery and discrimination against African Americans and make recommendations on reparation proposals to the descendants of slaves.

Booker’s bill has 14 Senate co-sponsors, including five presidential hopefuls: Sens. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandGOP-Biden feud looms over impeachment trial Sanders defends vote against USMCA: 'Not a single damn mention' of climate change The Hill's Morning Report — President Trump on trial MORE (D-N.Y.), Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisHarris on 2020 endorsement: 'I am not thinking about it right now' Panel: Is Kamala Harris a hypocrite for mulling a Joe Biden endorsement? The Hill's Morning Report — Dems detail case to remove Trump for abuse of power MORE (D-Calif.), Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenKlobuchar plans campaign rallies across Iowa despite impeachment trial Hillicon Valley — Presented by Philip Morris International — Wyden asks NSA to investigate White House cybersecurity | Commerce withdraws Huawei rule after Pentagon objects | Warren calls on Brazil to drop Greenwald charges Warren pledges to release Trump records if elected MORE (D-Mass.), Bernie SandersBernie SandersSanders to Clinton: 'This is not the kind of rhetoric that we need' Conservative reporter on Sanders: He's not a 'yes man' Human Rights Campaign president rips Sanders's embrace of Rogan endorsement MORE (I-Vt.) and Michael BennetMichael Farrand BennetImpeachment throws curveball in Iowa to sidelined senators Sanders says it's 'disappointing' he's not on campaign trail in Iowa CNN to host two straight nights of Democratic town halls before NH primary MORE (D-Colo.).

But many other Democrats are keeping their distance.

“I haven’t seen it and I don’t have any opinion about it,” Sen. Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezMedia's selective outrage exposed in McSally-Raju kerfuffle Dem senators say Iran threat to embassies not mentioned in intelligence briefing Overnight Defense: Iran crisis eases as Trump says Tehran 'standing down' | Dems unconvinced on evidence behind Soleimani strike | House sets Thursday vote on Iran war powers MORE (D-N.J.) said of Booker’s legislation.

Other Democrats say they need to learn more about it.

“Still learning about it but open to the idea, certainly. I find Cory to be one of the more thoughtful people I’ve ever known,” said Sen. Martin HeinrichMartin Trevor HeinrichDemocratic senator blasts 'draconian' press restrictions during impeachment trial Health care, spending bills fuel busy year for K Street Schumer introduces bill requiring GDP measure inequality MORE (D-N.M.).

Sen. Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerDemocrats worry Trump team will cherry-pick withheld documents during defense Commerce Department withdraws Huawei rule after Pentagon pushback: reports  Hillicon Valley — Presented by Philip Morris International — Bezos phone breach raises fears over Saudi hacking | Amazon seeks to halt Microsoft's work on 'war cloud' | Lawmakers unveil surveillance reform bill MORE (D-Va.) said of Booker’s bill, “I’m looking at the legislation [on setting up a commission] but have not taken a position on it.”

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One Democratic senator said reparations is one more issue getting touted on the campaign trail that Republicans will likely use as ammunition against other Democratic candidates in 2020, along with proposals such as “Medicare for All,” the Green New Deal and free college education.

The lawmaker, who requested anonymity, said Democrats would be better off focusing on topics that unite voters and where they have an advantage over Republicans, like protecting people with pre-existing medical conditions.

“In a presidential campaign where people are eyeing different constituencies based on where they’re trying to run and where they’re trying to do well and break through the pack, that makes a lot of sense. I don’t think that has much of a chance in the Congress we’re in,” said the senator.

“If you’re just talking presidential Democratic primaries, there’s interest in these issues and hearing it explained. When you start getting into specific Senate races, I don’t know how that helps, the contrast of a presidential candidate being for something and a Democratic Senate candidate not taking a position,” the lawmaker said, adding that Republican Senate candidates are going to “have a lot of issues like that” to pull from the presidential race.

The lawmaker expressed concern that with more than 20 candidates running for the Democratic nomination, the party’s message is going to be all over the place.

“Central for us is trying to get one message and be disciplined, because the president is going to be incredibly disciplined,” the senator said. “They’re starting messaging on things they haven’t even accomplished but making it sound like they accomplished things.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellCNN's Axelrod says impeachment didn't come up until 80 minutes into focus group Democrats feel political momentum swinging to them on impeachment Impeachment throws curveball in Iowa to sidelined senators MORE (R-Ky.) says his strategy to keep GOP control of the Senate is to tie Democratic candidates to liberal proposals being pushed by Harris, Booker, Warren, Sanders and other White House hopefuls.

McConnell told reporters in April that Republicans need to say to voters, “if you’re uncomfortable with things like the Green New Deal and ‘Medicare for None,’ the best way to avoid that is to have a Republican Senate.”

McConnell last week dismissed reparations as unworkable.

“I don’t think reparations for something that happened 150 years ago, for whom none of us currently living are responsible, is a good idea,” he said.

It’s a good issue for Republicans because it unites the GOP and divides Democrats.

Sen. Tim ScottTimothy (Tim) Eugene ScottDemocrats worry Trump team will cherry-pick withheld documents during defense What to watch for on day 4 of the Senate impeachment trial GOP cries boredom in attack on impeachment case MORE (R-S.C.), the only African American Republican in the Senate, last week dismissed reparations as a “non-starter.”

In an interview with The Hill this week, President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump says his advice to impeachment defense team is 'just be honest' Trump expands tariffs on steel and aluminum imports CNN's Axelrod says impeachment didn't come up until 80 minutes into focus group MORE indicated he’s not in favor of reparations.

“I think it’s a very unusual thing,” Trump said of the possibility of reparations. “You have a lot of — it’s been a very interesting debate. I don’t see it happening, no.”

National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman Todd YoungTodd Christopher YoungRestlessness, light rule-breaking and milk spotted on Senate floor as impeachment trial rolls on Impeachment trial forces senators to scrap fundraisers Iran resolution supporters fear impeachment will put it on back burner MORE (Ind.) said reparations is targeted squarely at the most liberal voters.

 “I think it will excite the far left of the Democratic Party, which is exactly what it’s designed to do,” he said.

Sen. Christopher CoonsChristopher (Chris) Andrew CoonsGOP-Biden feud looms over impeachment trial Hillicon Valley — Presented by Philip Morris International — Bezos phone breach raises fears over Saudi hacking | Amazon seeks to halt Microsoft's work on 'war cloud' | Lawmakers unveil surveillance reform bill Bezos phone breach escalates fears over Saudi hacking MORE (D-Del.), a co-sponsor of Booker’s bill on reparations, said slavery “has left a long and real and lasting impact” that needs to be addressed.

But he also acknowledged “there are real complexities around confronting this issue.”

“Figuring out a viable path forward in terms of who would be compensated and how and from what source of funding is a very thorny question,” he said.