Booker set to testify on reparations before House subcommittee

New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker is scheduled to testify Wednesday at a House hearing on paying reparations to the descendants of slaves. 

Members of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties are scheduled to discuss a bill written by Texas Democratic Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee that would create a commission to study and recommend proposals on paying reparations. Booker is one of several witnesses the committee has been invited to discuss the issue, which has become a topic of debate on the 2020 campaign trail

Other witnesses invited to the Wednesday hearing include actor Danny Glover and author Ta-Nehisi Coates, a leading advocate for reparations. 

According to prepared remarks provided to CBS News, Booker will say it is “fitting” that the House is scheduled to hold the hearing on Juneteenth, the day that commemorates the abolition of slavery. Booker will then argue that the country has not fully grasped the ramifications of policies that have disproportionately affected minority communities.

“As a nation, we have yet to truly acknowledge and grapple with the racism and white supremacy that tainted this country’s founding and continues to cause persistent and deep racial disparities and inequality,” reads Booker’s remarks. “These disparities don’t just harm black communities, they harm all communities.”

In April, Booker introduced a Senate version of Jackson Lee’s bill. Booker’s version of the bill has 12 cosponsors, 5 of whom are also Democratic presidential candidates, and is the only reparations bill to be introduced in the Senate in the post-Reconstruction era.

“My bill is about bringing the best minds together,” Booker recently said on BET’s “Black Coffee.” 

“It’s just not only studying this issue, but coming up with specific recommendations about how we can deal with the continuing legacy of the impact of slavery, and overtly racist policies that went all the way up into the 1960s.”

In the 2020 election cycle, multiple Democratic presidential candidates have said they support establishing a commission to study reparations. This is a marked shift from past election years, when mainstream Democratic contenders like Hillary Clinton and former President Obama shunned the issue. 

While a number of 2020 Democrats broadly support the idea of reparations and have backed Jackson Lee’s bill to study the issue, only a few have gone into specifics about how such a policy would work. 

Author and lecturer Marianne Williamson has proposed a plan to distribute $200 to $500 billion to the descendants of slaves over 20 years. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, meanwhile, wants to set aside $7 billion in grants for black and minority owned businesses, but does not call that a reparations plan and does not link it to slavery.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, another 2020 candidate, has repeatedly criticized the idea of reparations. 

“I think that right now, our job is to address the crises facing the American people and our communities, and I think there are better ways to do that than just writing out a check,” he said on ABC’s “The View” in March.

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