House legislation to form a commission to study whether black Americans should receive reparations for slavery is getting a significant boost from Democrats on the presidential campaign trail.
Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.), the head of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), suggested that action on a reparations measure sponsored by Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) is all but certain, with Democrats now in control of the lower chamber and the idea gaining prominence on the national stage.
Jackson Lee’s bill would form a commission to study the issue of reparations but does not call for black Americans to receive payments.
“I don’t think there needs to be pressure, we’re in charge,” Bass said. “It’s being discussed, I’m sure we’re going to get there.”
2020 hopefuls including Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) are backing the legislation. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii), another presidential candidate, is a co-sponsor.
And on Wednesday, former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas) endorsed the idea, a pivot from his earlier statement of opposition to reparations payments.
“Absolutely I would sign that into law,” O’Rourke said of Jackson Lee’s bill during an interview with the Rev. Al Sharpton at his National Action Network convention in New York.
The support from presidential candidates highlights how the idea of reparations is spiking in popularity in Democratic circles — particularly as a large field of candidates jockeys for support from African-American voters.
Former Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) had introduced a reparations bill in every Congress since 1989, but the legislation was given little notice even with the nation’s first black president, Barack Obama, in office.
Jackson Lee, who took up the mantle from Conyers, said she’s been talking with House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) about holding a hearing on her bill. Nadler is also a co-sponsor, and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has put her considerable voice behind the effort. An aide said Wednesday that, if acted upon, the bill would move first through Nadler’s committee before reaching the floor.
“We tried to posture this legislation at the highest level of thought and seriousness. There is no humor. There is no request in the bill for a check or a pot of gold,” Jackson Lee told The Hill as she headed to a CBC meeting in the Capitol.