On Wednesday, the House Judiciary Committee approved H.R. 40 which establishes a 13-person commission to study slavery reparations in the United States for the first time in history.
It passed with a majority of 25-17 votes. The vote does not mean that the bill will make it to the House floor. Should it proceed to a vote, the Democrats hold a very slim majority in the House and its passage is in doubt. It is even more unlikely to pass the Senate.
Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) presented the legislation to the House committee. She declared: “No such bill has ever come this far during Congressional history of the United States.” The bill was initially introduced in the House in 1989. But it never received a committee vote.
Slavery reparations could potentially cost trillions of dollars and would be doled out to an estimated 40 million black Americans.
(Video Credit: House Committee on the Judiciary)
President Biden announced his support for the study just days ago during a meeting with the Congressional Black Caucus.
“We did bring up the issue of reparations,” stated Jackson Lee on Tuesday, following the meeting. “We have heard not only from the president but the White House and his team, that he is committed to this concept.”
“We are grateful for that,” she said.
The late Rep. John Conyers introduced the resolution to study reparations in 1989. It was reportedly based on the “40 acres and a mule” that freed slaves were promised by the federal government but then did not receive. If passed, the bill would require a formal apology to black Americans from the government. Conyers passed away in 2019 and Jackson Lee has picked up the mantle to present the bill.
“I took that challenge seriously and here we are today, marking it up for the first time in the history of America any legislation that deals directly with the years and centuries of slavery of Africans and African American people who are now the descendants of those Africans,” Jackson Lee said during the hearing on Wednesday.
1/3 This is a historic, monumental, and unprecedented day! For the first time in the history of the United States, the horrible negative impact of slavery will be front and center in the United States Congress during the House Judiciary Full Committee Markup of my bill, H.R. 40 pic.twitter.com/WQy4ptuXia
— Sheila Jackson Lee (@JacksonLeeTX18) April 14, 2021
“Next week’s markup of HR 40 [the Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African-Americans Act] by the Judiciary Committee is a major step toward the creation of a long-overdue national commission to study and develop reparation proposals,” Jackson Lee said in a statement.
“Through this legislation, we will finally be able to confront the stark societal disparities occurring in the African American community today and provide solutions,” she proclaimed.
3/3 the African American community and the entire Nation.
— Sheila Jackson Lee (@JacksonLeeTX18) April 14, 2021
“Our nation continues to struggle with the legacy of the anti-black racism that undergirded slavery and Jim Crow,” Congressman Steve Cohen also commented. “Enacting HR 40 would create a study that may propose programs for finding effective long-term solutions for wealth creation, education, fair housing, and access to healthcare that continue to plague the black community.”
“It is hoped this study will help explain to the American people the promises made to African Americans after the Civil War and the lingering effects of not keeping those promises,” he remarked.
Slavery was this country’s original sin. Our Constitution protected it and we continue to grapple with its effects today.
— Steve Cohen (@RepCohen) April 15, 2021
“This legislation is long overdue,” claimed Representative Jerrold Nadler, who is the Democratic chairman of the committee. “H.R. 40 is intended to begin a national conversation about how to confront the brutal mistreatment of African Americans during chattel slavery, Jim Crow segregation, and the enduring structural racism that remains endemic to our society today.”
Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), who is the ranking Republican on the committee, bluntly stated that the commission’s makeup ensures support for reparations. “Spend $20 million for a commission that’s already decided to take money from people who were never involved in the evil of slavery and give it to people who were never subject to the evil of slavery. That’s what Democrats on the Judiciary Committee are doing,” Jordan noted.
Majority Leader Steny Hoyer told CBS News that he has no idea when the bill will be scheduled for consideration on the House floor. Jackson Lee said she hopes the full House will vote on the bill by this summer.
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