NAACP gives Reid an A in latest report card on Congress

By Krissah Thompson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 5, 2010

Despite being at the center of a racial firestorm last month, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid scored an A on the latest report card from the NAACP.

The Nevada Democrat may have gotten in trouble for his pre-election comments describing President Obama as "light-skinned" with no "Negro accent," but his voting record was something the 100-year-old civil rights group cheered in its report card of the first session of the 111th Congress released Thursday.

The association ranked each member of Congress on support of NAACP's policy positions based on 21 key votes cast last year in the Senate and 25 votes in the House. Fifty-nine percent of senators and 47 percent of House members received an A, and 29 percent of senators and 34 percent of House members received an F.

On the whole, Democrats were far more likely to get high marks than Republicans. The exception were centrist Blue Dog Democrats, many of whom received Cs and Ds.

"It doesn't matter what party you are -- if you vote with us, you're our friend," said Hilary Shelton, director of the NAACP's Washington Bureau. "If you don't, you're not."

The NAACP has been scoring Congress since 1914 on its civil rights agenda, making its report card -- a favorite accountability tool among Washington groups -- one of the oldest in the country. Issues it graded lawmakers on included everything from a vote for increased funding for after-school programs to one in favor of an expanded role for the federal government in investigating and prosecuting hate crimes.

On those votes, many members of the Blue Dog Coalition found themselves at cross purposes with NAACP leaders.

"What's clear is they don't have our interest at heart, so in that respect we don't discriminate between people who get Fs or Ds or Cs," said NAACP President Benjamin Jealous. "We treat them all the same, and we encourage the voters to treat them the same."

It was a threat that some members of the coalition took seriously. Rep. Baron Hill (D-Indiana) is both policy chair of the Blue Dogs and a lifetime member of the NAACP. He scored a 76 on the report card this year, although he has done better in past years. Hill's spokeswoman, Katie Moreau, said the association's agenda appeared to be more progressive this year.

"His constituents know that he often breaks rank, and most folks tend to appreciate that," Moreau said. "We have a rather independent district and . . . every vote is a bill-by-bill decision based on merits."

Reid, on the other hand, had a near-perfect score, voting with the NAACP last year on every issue except a bill that banned the D.C. government from prohibiting an individual from possessing firearms. The NAACP opposed the bill. Reid voted for it, and the bill passed. The juxtaposition of Reid's high marks and the backlash caused by his controversial comments about Obama exemplify the complexity of race that report cards can't measure, Jealous said.

"You ultimately judge people by the walk they walk -- by what they do, not what they say," he said.

© 2010 The Washington Post Company