Reparations Bill Tests Biden and Harris on Racial JusticeBreaking News
tags: African American history, Joe Biden, reparations
President Joe Biden supports the idea behind the bill. Vice President Kamala Harris endorsed it during her time in the Senate. But that might not be enough to get a proposal to study reparations for slavery to Biden's desk this Congress.
Despite the enormity of the task behind the legislation known as H.R. 40 — named for the "40 acres and a mule" that has come to symbolize the post-Civil War government's failure to help formerly enslaved people — the bill has new political momentum since its last introduction in 2019, when the GOP controlled the White House and Senate. The nationwide protests last summer following George Floyd’s killing have raised public awareness of racial injustice and kick-started a national conversation that advocates for a reparations dialogue see as valuable.
What no one knows yet is how committed the White House is to the specific House legislative vehicle, which has been introduced in every Congress for more than three decades and would establish a commission of experts to study direct payments to African Americans. The Senate introduced a companion bill for the first time during the 116th Congress, prompting a number of presidential candidates — including then-California Sen. Harris — to throw their support behind it.
Biden supported the idea of a reparations study during his own 2020 presidential bid but stopped short of fully endorsing the legislation itself. His administration is not testifying at a Wednesday hearing in a House Judiciary Committee subpanel on the reparations measure, but House Democratic efforts to put the issue back on the party's agenda could nudge the White House to take a more direct position.
“It is clear ... that the Democratic Party leadership is in favor of this legislation,” said Kamm Howard, a witness in Wednesday’s hearing and national male co-chair of the National Council of Blacks for Reparations. “The President would have a duty to move the legislation that his party in Congress is favorable to. And so we will look to that legislative process."
Biden has garnered goodwill from Black activists and social justice advocates for moves early in his presidency that they say signal his commitment to taking racial equity work beyond talking points. Witnesses slated to appear at the hearing said that scheduling it within the first 100 days of the Biden administration was an important first gesture toward making progress on the bill.
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