Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer announced he supports creating a commission to study reparations for the descendants of slaves, telling reporters Tuesday that racism is "the poison of America."
"I will support the legislation by Sen. Cory Booker and Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee to establish a commission to study the issue of reparations for slavery and discrimination," Schumer said.
Jackson Lee introduced H.R. 40 — named after the Civil War-era promise of 40 acres and a mule as compensation for former slaves — in the House earlier this year. It has significant support in the House, including from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Several presidential candidates in the Senate, including Booker, who sponsored the Senate version of the legislation, have also expressed support.
"I don't think people understand that slavery is not far away," Schumer said on Capitol Hill on Tuesday. "I think that's the biggest problem. People say, 'Oh, it happened way back then what do we have to pay attention now.' The legacy of slavery and Jim Crow — which is a type of semi, quasi, of slavery — is still with us and so we need to do a lot more."
In an extensive interview with CBSN last week, Jackson Lee explained the composition of the proposed committee to study reparations, saying that members of the body would be appointed by the president, the leader of the Senate, the Speaker of the House and a number of academic scholars to include a bipartisan array of voices.
"We're going to take this very seriously," Jackson Lee said. "I'm excited about the momentum and the numbers of members of Congress who have joined this discussion, and we're looking forward to getting this passed."
However, even if H.R. 40 does pass in the House, it faces an uphill battle for confirmation in the Senate. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said he opposes reparations.
"I don't think that reparations for something that happened 150 years ago, for whom none of us currently living are responsible, is a good idea. We tried to deal with our original sin of slavery by fighting a Civil War, by passing landmark civil rights legislation. We elected an African American president," McConnell told reporters in June.
A House panel held a hearing on the bill in June, which featured testimony from Booker, writer Ta-Nehisi Coates and actor Danny Glover.
"For a century after the Civil War, black people were subject to a relentless campaign of terror," Coates said in the hearing, adding that while "it is tempting to divorce this modern campaign of terror, of plunder, from slavery," the legacy of slavery and discrimination were tied together and justified recompense. Coates also specifically targeted McConnell in his testimony.
"Majority Leader McConnell cited civil-rights legislation yesterday, as well he should, because he was alive to witness the harassment, jailing, and betrayal of those responsible for that legislation by a government sworn to protect them. He was alive for the redlining of Chicago and the looting of black homeowners of some $4 billion," Coates said. "Victims of that plunder are very much alive today. I am sure they'd love a word with the majority leader."