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Tuberville reparations remarks bring renewed attention to House bill

Backlash to Sen. Tommy Tuberville’s (R-Ala.) remarks at a campaign rally in Nevada linking slavery reparations to crime is drawing attention to a long-sought bill that has stalled in Congress.

Tuberville prompted an uproar this past weekend after comments he made about reparations during a rally hosted by former President Trump went viral.

“They want crime because they want to take over what you got,” Tuberville said in Nevada on Saturday, referring to Democrats. “They want to control what you have. They want reparations because they think the people that do the crime are owed that.”

Democrats and advocates pounced on the remarks instantly, decrying the comments as racist and harmful. But the controversy is shining a light some say could be critical to a years-long legislative push to form a commission to study reparations that supporters hope might still move forward before 2023.

“There is no better moment than a moment like this, when essentially Black people have been accused of being criminals and using criminality as a basis for reparations,” Ron Daniels, convener of the National African American Reparations Commission, told The Hill on Tuesday. 

The commission bill, known as H.R. 40, was first introduced by the late Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) more than 30 years ago and filed by the congressman again and again throughout his time in office until he retired in 2017.

It didn’t receive its first markup and committee action until last year, after it was introduced by Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) on the heels of the nation’s racial reckoning following the police murder of George Floyd in 2020.

More than a year has passed since the House Judiciary Committee advanced the bill in a historic vote, and some proponents are hopeful they’ll see action on it during the lame-duck session of Congress.

“It certainly still has a chance to get passed, a good chance to get passed, and I’d like to see it happen,” Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) told The Hill.

“I would like to see it pass today,” Rep. Al Green (D-Texas) also told The Hill shortly before the House left for October recess. “The sooner we pass it the better, because that involves a study to ascertain what the circumstance is and what we might do.”

A government page for the bill lists 196 co-sponsors, though those names include nonvoting delegates, the late Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.) and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Marcia Fudge, who joined the president’s Cabinet in early 2021.   

Backers insist the bill would fetch 217 votes and pass the House if brought to the floor, though it would not get through the Senate, where a filibuster stands in the way. 

Democrats would need all 50 of their senators to back the legislation and at least 10 Republicans votes to bypass the 60-vote threshold.

Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) has argued a push for reparations is unnecessary. 

“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, then the Senate majority leader, said during the 2020 campaign season. 

“We’ve tried to deal with our original sin of slavery by fighting a civil war, by passing landmark civil rights legislation,” he also said then, while adding, in reference to former President Obama: “We elected an African American president.”

Some Democrats say a vote passing the bill in the House would still hold significance, providing a real victory for an issue that advocates have worked on for years. 

Yet with the legislation likely to die in the Senate, some Democrats in the House might not want to risk a vote for the bill, even in a lame-duck session.

Advocates argue reparations are needed to address the harms of slavery and historical discrimination that continue to permeate society in the present, including in areas spanning housing, health care, education, the environment and others.

“H.R. 40 is so extensively documented by science and economics,” Jackson Lee told The Hill. “There is no doubt of the wealth gap between African American families and white families right now.”

Her comments came just days after the release of a report by the Congressional Budget Office in late September that found glaring racial disparities on median family wealth spanning 1989 through 2019.

According to the report, the median wealth of Black families hit $40,300 in 2019, compared to $260,000 for their white counterparts. The report said the “ratio of White families’ median wealth to Black families’ median wealth averaged 6.7 to 1.” 

The highest ratio recorded, according to the report, was 12 to 1 in 1989, while the lowest was recorded in 1998, at 5.1 to 1.

Jackson Lee, who is spearheading the legislative push for the commission bill, has called on the Biden administration to take up the cause, and visited the White House earlier this year to discuss the matter.

“We were in the White House in February, where the team promised a strong look at H.R. 40 and a strong look at doing an executive order,” she told The Hill, adding she’s also “appreciated the president’s executive orders dealing with police safety issues, gun issues, transgender family issues.”

Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.), who backs the measure, told The Hill it would be progress if the House passed the bill and if President Biden issued an executive order. 

“I think if the House could do that, and the president does an executive order, that’s two-thirds of the government saying we need to do this thing,” he said.

Tags Hank Johnson Marcia Fudge Mitch McConnell Sheila Jackson Lee Tommy Tuberville Trump
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