WASHINGTON ― Republicans say they’re not interested in studying the idea of reparations for descendants of slaves, which Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) floated in a bill earlier this week.
“I think it’s too remote in time. I think it’s too divisive,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, told reporters this week.
Booker’s proposal, a companion to a measure offered in the House by Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) earlier this year, would set up a federal commission to examine the effects of slavery and ongoing racial discrimination on black communities, an effort that would include generating recommendations on reparations for slave descendants.
“This bill is a way of addressing head-on the persistence of racism, white supremacy, and implicit racial bias in our country,” Booker said in a statement on Tuesday, pointing to housing discrimination through so-called redlining as one prime example.
“It will bring together the best minds to study the issue and propose solutions that will finally begin to right the economic scales of past harms and make sure we are a country where all dignity and humanity is affirmed,” he added.
The issue has emerged as a litmus test for 2020 Democratic presidential candidates. Several candidates have expressed some level of support for reparations, including Sens. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro, and former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke. Marianne Williamson, a self-help guru and spiritual adviser who is also running for president, has gone furthest in proposing to set aside $100 billion to $500 billion for a reparations program.
But Republican members on the Senate Judiciary Committee, which would be tasked with marking up Booker’s bill, say they do not support studying the matter.
“I don’t think anybody ― black or white, man or woman, whatever your nationality ― is responsible for what somebody else did, somebody else, black or white, did 150 years ago,” Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) said Wednesday.
Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), who is the first African-American senator to be elected from the South since 1881, the end of the Reconstruction Era, also said he didn’t support the “concept” of reparations.
The GOP senator associated himself with the remarks of House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.), the highest-ranking African-American member of Congress, who said reparations would be “impossible” to implement.
“Essentially a conversation about reparations is just something that’s not even a realistic possibility, so it’s something I don’t think we spend any time conversing on,” Scott told HuffPost on Wednesday.
Scott recently joined Booker and other Democrats in passing legislation that would make lynching a federal crime. He also worked closely with Booker to push through last year’s criminal justice reform bill.
The idea of giving descendants of slaves reparations has been discussed for decades, but recently gained more attention after a series in The Atlantic magazine by author Ta-Nehisi Coates.