- A House Judiciary Subcommittee held a hearing on Wednesday for a bill that proposes the formation of a commission that would discuss potential reparations for slavery.
- Many people got the chance to speak at the hearing, with some showing support for the bill and others arguing that there are more pressing issues facing the African American community today that should be addressed instead.
- The bill could see a vote in the House, but many say it is unlikely to pass the Senate.
- Mitch McConnell has already expressed a disinterest in reparations.
A House Judiciary Subcommittee held the first hearing in a decade for a bill relating to slavery reparations.
On Wednesday, the Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties opened its doors to leaders from a variety of fields to speak about H.R. 40. The legislation was introduced by Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX). The bill proposes the formation of a commission to “study and consider a national apology and proposal for reparations for the institution of slavery.”
The bill itself does not directly propose any type of reparations, just a commission to look into the potential of them. These reparations could potentially include compensation to descendants.
During the hearing, which was notably held on June 19, or Juneteenth, a holiday commemorating the emancipation of slaves in Texas, several speakers, including Jackson Lee, Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), actor and activist Danny Glover, and more got the chance to take the mic.
Jackson Lee said this bill is “long overdue.” She added that even though slavery ended close to 150 years ago, African Americans are still living with its long-term impacts.
“One million African Americans are incarcerated, that is a continuing impact,” she said. “The black unemployment rate is 6.6 percent, in spite of what has been said currently, more than double the national unemployment rate. 31 percent of black children live in poverty in comparison to 11 percent of white children.”
Writer Ta-Nehisi Coates also spoke during the hearing. He addressed the common argument that asks why present-day Americans should be financially responsible for something that happened generations back.
“We honor treaties that date back some 200 years despite no one being alive who signed those treaties,” he sated. “Many of us would love to be taxed for the things we are solely and individually responsible for. But we are American citizens, and thus bound to a collective enterprise that extends beyond our individual and personal reach.”
Others did argue against H.R. 40. Writer Coleman Hughes said that he believes it is an “injustice” that there were never reparations made in the past, however, there are more pressing issues to deal with in the present.
“Black people don’t need another apology,” he said. “We need safer neighborhoods and better schools. We need a less punitive criminal justice system. We need affordable healthcare.”
Reparations in the U.S.
H.R. 40 is named for the phrase “40 acres and a mule,” which was commonly used to describe the original reparations slaves were promised after the Civil War. An order was signed to give 400,000 acres of land that used to belong to the Confederates in the south to recently freed slaves. Families would get up to 40 acres of land, and while this was not specified in the order, some families would also receive an army mule.
However, none of the former slaves ever saw that land. When President Andrew Johnson succeeded President Abraham Lincoln, he reversed the order. The land ended up going back to its Confederate owners.
The government later proposed a form of pensions, but nothing ever came of it. Now-retired Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-MI) proposed a version of H.R. 40 every year between 1989 and 2017. Nothing ever came of it during that period, but the bill Jackson Lee is pushing is a re-introduction of it.
Future of H.R. 40
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) said that if the bill gets through the Judiciary Committee, he expects the House to vote on it. Currently, H.R. 40 has the support of Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-NY), Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), the Congressional Black Caucus, and several other Democrats.
Many anticipate that if it gets through the House, it could hit a wall in the Senate. House Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has already expressed a disinterest in reparations.
“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,” McConnell said to reporters on Tuesday. “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.”
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Mississippi Asks Supreme Court To Overturn Roe v. Wade
The Supreme Court’s decision to consider Mississippi’s restrictive abortion ban already has sweeping implications for the precedents set under the landmark reproductive rights ruling, but now the state is asking the high court to go even further.
Mississippi’s Abortion Case
Mississippi filed a brief Thursday asking the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade when it hears the state’s 15-week abortion ban this fall.
After months of deliberation, the high court agreed in May to hear what will be the first abortion case the 6-to-3 conservative majority will decide.
Both a district judge and a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit had ruled that Mississippi could not enforce the 2018 law that banned nearly all abortions at 15 weeks with exceptions for only “severe fetal abnormality,” but not rape and incest.
If the Supreme Court upholds the Mississippi law, it would undo decades of precedent set under Roe in 1973 and upheld under Planned Parenthood v. Casey in 1992, where the court respectively ruled and reaffirmed that states could not ban abortion before the fetus is “viable” and can live outside the womb, which is generally around 24 to 28 weeks.
When the justices decided to hear the case, they said they would specifically examine the question of whether “all pre-viability prohibitions on elective abortions are unconstitutional.”
Depending on the scope of their decision on the Mississippi law, the court’s ruling could allow other states to pass much more restrictive abortion bans without the risk of lower courts striking down those laws.
As a result, legal experts have said the case will represent the most significant ruling on reproductive rights since Casey nearly three decades ago, and the Thursday brief raises the stakes even more.
When Mississippi asked the justices to take up its case last June, the state’s attorney general, Lynn Fitch (R), explicitly stated that the petition’s questions “do not require the Court to overturn Roe or Casey.”
But that was before the court’s conservatives solidified their supermajority with the appointment of Justice Amy Coney Barrett — who personally opposes abortion — following the death of liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
New Filing Takes Aim at Roe
With the new filing, it appears that Fitch views the high court’s altered makeup as an opportunity to undermine the constitutional framework that has been in place for the better part of the last century.
“The Constitution’s text says nothing about abortion,” Fitch wrote in the brief, arguing that American society has changed so much that the previous rulings need to be reheard.
“Today, adoption is accessible and on a wide scale women attain both professional success and a rich family life, contraceptives are more available and effective, and scientific advances show that an unborn child has taken on the human form and features months before viability,” she added, claiming the power should be left to state lawmakers.
“Roe and Casey shackle states to a view of the facts that is decades out of date,” she continued. “The national fever on abortion can break only when this Court returns abortion policy to the states.”
The Center for Reproductive Rights, which represents Mississippi’s sole abortion provider in the suit against the state’s law, painted Fitch’s effort as one that will have a chilling effect on abortion rights nationwide.
“Mississippi has stunningly asked the Supreme Court to overturn Roe and every other abortion rights decision in the last five decades,” Nancy Northup, the president and CEO of the group said in a statement Thursday. “Today’s brief reveals the extreme and regressive strategy, not just of this law, but of the avalanche of abortion bans and restrictions that are being passed across the country.”
The Supreme Court has not yet said exactly when during its fall term it will hear oral arguments on the Mississippi case, but a decision is expected to come down by next June or July, as is standard.
An anticipated ruling just months before the 2022 midterms will almost certainly position abortion as a top issue at the ballot box.
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Republicans Boycott Jan. 6 Committee After Pelosi Rejects Two of McCarthy’s Picks
The House Minority Leader said that unless House Speaker Pelosi reinstated the two members, Republicans will launch their own investigation into the insurrection.
Pelosi Vetoes Republicans
Republicans are boycotting the select committee to investigate the insurrection after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca.) rejected two of the five GOP members Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Ca.) picked to serve on the panel Wednesday.
In a statement, Pelosi cited the “statements and actions” of Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Oh.) and Jim Banks (R-In.), whose nominations she said she was opposing “with respect for the integrity of the investigation.”
Jordan and Banks — both staunch allies of former President Donald Trump — have helped propagate the previous leader’s false election claims, opposed efforts to investigate the insurrection, and voted not to certify the election for President Joe Biden.
A senior Democratic aide also specifically told The Washington Post that Democrats did not want Jordan on the panel because he reportedly helped Trump strategized how to overturn the election and due to the fact he spoke to the then-president on Jan. 6, meaning there is a possibility he could be called to testify before the very same committee.
The aide also said that Democrats opposed Banks’ selection because of a statement he issued after McCarthy chose him.
In the statement, the representative compared the insurrection to the racial justice protests last summer, implied that the rioters were just normal American’s expressing their political views, and claimed the committee was a political ploy “to justify the Left’s authoritarian agenda.”
Notably, Pelosi did say she would accept McCarthy’s three other nominees — including Rep. Troy Nehls (R-Wi.), who also voted against certifying Biden’s win.
McCarthy Threatens Separate Investigation
McCarthy, however, refused to select new members, and instead opted to remove all his appointees from the would-be bipartisan committee.
In a statement condemning the move, the minority leader said that Pelosi’s action “represents an egregious abuse of power.”
“Denying the voices of members who have served in the military and law enforcement, as well as leaders of standing committees, has made it undeniable that this panel has lost all legitimacy and credibility and shows the Speaker is more interested in playing politics than seeking the truth,” he said.
“Unless Speaker Pelosi reverses course and seats all five Republican nominees, Republicans will not be party to their sham process and will instead pursue our own investigation of the facts.”
Pelosi defended her decision during a press conference Thursday, where she said that Banks and Jordan were “ridiculous” choices for the panel.
“When statements are ridiculous and fall into the realm of, ‘You must be kidding,’ there’s no way that they’re going to be on the committee,” she added.
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More Republican Are Pushing COVID Vaccinations, But the Party Remains Divided on Its Messaging
The renewed effort to encourage vaccination comes as the surge in COVID cases caused by the delta variant continues to disproportionately impact Republican-led states with low vaccination rates.
GOP Leaders Ramps Up Vaccination Push
In recent days, more Republican leaders and prominent conservatives have ramped up efforts to encourage members of their party to get vaccinated against COVID-19 as the U.S. continues to see massive surges from the delta variant.
Some, like Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), have been pushing Americans to get vaccinated for months — a call he reiterated again on Tuesday. Many others, however, have been reticent to do the same until recently.
Most notable on that list is Rep. Steve Scalise (La.), the no. 2 Republican in House leadership, who just got his first dose over the weekend after resisting vaccination, claiming he had antibodies from previously contracting COVID. Scalise explained he changed his mind because of delta and encouraged others to do the same.
“There shouldn’t be any hesitancy over whether or not it’s safe and effective,” he said.
The top leader is set to continue pushing that advice. Earlier this week, the GOP Doctors Caucus announced that it would hold a news conference Thursday alongside Scalise and the third-ranking House Republican, Rep. Elise Stefanik (N.Y.), to encourage vaccination.
Rank and File Republicans Continue To Cast Doubt, Spread Misinformation
There are still plenty of Republicans working to undermine the renewed push to get their party vaccinated.
While many have painted vaccination as a matter of freedom of choice, others have sought to downplay the virus. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, whose state currently accounts for 40% of all new COVID cases, dismissed the spikes as the result of a “seasonal virus” on Monday.
Rep. Barry Loudermilk — who has had COVID twice — echoed that in a statement to reporters on Tuesday, where he argued that COVID is just something everyone has to live with.
“This is something we deal with in our lives on a daily basis; ever since I’ve been born, there’s sicknesses, there’s flu, there’s different diseases,” he said.
Some members of the GOP have used their positions of power to actively fight against vaccination. That includes Sen. Ron Johnson (Wi.), who has openly said he is not vaccinated. He has also been widely condemned for promoting unproven treatments and false information about vaccines during interviews and congressional hearings.
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (Ga.), who has repeatedly refused to share her vaccination status, has also drawn ire for sharing misinformation and continually comparing COVID prevention efforts to the Holocaust.
Greene was temporarily suspended from Twitter earlier this week for sharing false information on Monday, but she continued to utilize her spotlight to spread misinformation about vaccine-related deaths and side effects during a press conference the following day.
While those who downplay the coronavirus and spread false information about vaccinations are certainly not representative of the entire Republican Party, they are some of the most visible.
Greene and many of her counterparts who push anti-vaccine narratives have frequently been accused of acting in inflammatory ways to get more press — a strategy that more often than not tends to work in their favor.
As a result, Republicans who want to encourage people to get the jabs will have their work cut out for them. Even many of those who have not openly expressed skepticism themselves have still let it flourish in the party for so long by not publicly pushing back against claims from members who sow disinformation.
The GOP’s broader failure to unify around a singular message on vaccines shows clearly among the party’s base.
According to a recent Washington Post-ABC News, poll 86% of Democrats have received at least one shot, but just 45% of Republicans have done the same. While just 6% of Democrats say they are not likely to get the vaccine, 47% of Republicans said they probably will not, and 38% said they definitely will not.
Meanwhile, Republican-led states with low vaccination rates are suffering the most from the new spike in cases and the rapid spread of the delta variant.
Arkansas, which has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the country at just 35%, is currently reporting the highest per-capita cases in the U.S. Hospitalizations have gone up 85% in the state in the last two weeks, placing some hospital systems on the brink of collapse — a problem also faced by parts of Missouri, which has the third-highest COVID cases nationwide.