By Adam Shaw
Published June 19, 2019
As Democrats consider the idea of reparations to black Americans for slavery, polling indicates that the public is far from convinced about the idea.
House Judiciary Democrats on Wednesday were holding a hearing in the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties subcommittee on H.R. 40 -- a proposal by Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee, D-Texas, to set up a commission to study and develop a response to the question of reparations for slavery.
But polling suggests that such a commission would also need to change the minds of a significant number of Americans for the move to get support.
A Fox News poll in April found that 60 percent of Americans oppose paying cash reparations to descendants of slaves, while just 32 percent support it. A Rasmussen poll in the same month found that just 21 percent of likely voters think taxpayers should pay reparations to black Americans who can prove they are descended from slaves.
However, in a finding that could put 2020 Democratic presidential hopefuls in a bind, the Fox poll found that among Democratic primary voters, 54 percent said they were likely to support a candidate who backed reparations, while 33 percent said they were not likely.
Additionally, Data For Progress found in a poll last year that while the measure had only 26 percent of Americans in favor, it had net positive support among voters under 45. A Point-Taken Marist poll in 2016 found that while 68 percent of Americans were opposed to reparations, 6 in 10 black Americans said they were in favor.
A number of 2020 presidential candidates have dabbled in talk of reparations, although they have yet to really dive into the controversial waters -- remaining vague about the extent of their plans.
Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., suggested to The Grio in February that it could include a generic tax credit to families making under $100,000 -- a much less controversial proposal. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., has gone a step further and said that Native Americans should be “part of the conversation.”
Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., who will testify at the hearing Wednesday, has introduced a Senate version of Lee’s bill to study the question. In his prepared testimony, he says the U.S. has 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."
The hearing on Wednesday will include testimony from activist and actor Danny Glover and author Ta-Nehisi Coates -- who wrote an influential 2014 essay on “The Case for Reparations” for The Atlantic.
According to the legislation being discussed at the hearing, the commission would “study and consider a national apology and proposal for reparations for the institution of slavery, its subsequent de jure and de facto racial and economic discrimination against African-Americans, and the impact of these forces on living African-Americans, to make recommendations to the Congress on appropriate remedies, and for other purposes.”
Such plans would likely face significant Republican opposition. In a news conference Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said that he was opposed to reparations.
"I think we're always a work in progress in this country, but no one currently alive was responsible for that, and I don't think we should be trying to figure out how to compensate for it. First of all, it would be pretty hard to figure out who to compensate," he said. "No, I don't think reparations are a good idea.”
It is also unclear to what extent Democratic leaders would support such a push on such a divisive issue. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has supported the commission, but has described reparations as a “challenging issue.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.