Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) compared himself to former president Barack Obama on Tuesday, saying they are both descendants of slave owners.
McConnell was responding to an NBC News report that found two of the Kentucky Republican’s great-great-grandfathers owned at least 14 slaves, according to 19th-century census records.
“You know, I find myself in the same position as President Obama,” McConnell told reporters who asked him about his family history. “We both oppose reparations, and we both are the descendants of slave owners.”
McConnell said last month he opposes reparations for descendants of slaves, a position he defended in part by saying the country has dealt with its “original sin of slavery” because it elected an African American president: Obama.
“I don’t think reparations for something that happened 150 years ago — for [which] none of us currently living are responsible — is a good idea,” McConnell added.
Obama, whose father was a black Kenyan and his mother was a white Kansan, has said his mother’s lineage could be traced to the Confederate president, Jefferson Davis. His wife, Michelle Obama, has ancestors who fought for the Confederacy.
In 2007, a genealogist traced Barack Obama’s roots and discovered two slave owners in his maternal ancestry. Asked about it at the time, Bill Burton, a spokesman for Obama, told the New York Times that Obama knew he was related to Davis, and said this new information made Obama “representative of America.”’
“It is a true measure of progress that the descendant of a slave owner would come to marry a student from Kenya and produce a son who would grow up to be a candidate for president of the United States,” Burton said.
The former president is also a descendant of the first African slave in the American colonies, the genealogy website Ancestry.com found in 2012 — on his mother’s side.
When Obama ran for president in 2008, he opposed reparations for descendants of slavery because he worried they could be used as an excuse not to work on challenges of racial inequality in education, housing and the workforce.
“I would prefer to focus on the issues that will directly address these problems — and building a consensus to do just that, Obama said.
Democrats’ thoughts on reparations have changed since then, with many of the 2020 presidential candidates coming out in support of some kind of reparation system for descendants of slaves.