Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday that he opposes reparations for the descendants of slaves, arguing that “it would be pretty hard to figure out who to compensate.”
McConnell (R-Ky.) made the remarks at his weekly news conference with reporters ahead of a House subcommittee hearing on the issue Wednesday.
“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 said when asked whether he supports reparations or, if not, whether he backs the idea of a public apology from Congress.
Wednesday’s hearing of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, titled “H.R. 40 and the Path to Restorative Justice,” will include testimony from Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), writer Ta-Nehisi Coates and actor Danny Glover, among others.
The hearing comes as a number of contenders for the 2020 Democratic presidential nod have thrown their support behind reparations. As The Washington Post’s Eugene Scott notes, the hearing is also set to coincide with the observance of Juneteenth, a day commemorating the emancipation of enslaved black people in the United States.
In addition to noting that the perpetrators of slavery are dead, McConnell argued that “it would be pretty hard to figure out who to compensate.”
“We’ve had waves of immigrants as well who have come to the country and experienced dramatic discrimination of one kind or another,” he said. “So no, I don’t think reparations are a good idea.”
He also contended that the country has addressed its historic racial injustices, in part through the election of President Barack Obama.
“We’ve tried to deal with our original sin of slavery by fighting a Civil War, by passing landmark civil rights legislation,” he said. “We’ve elected an African American president. I think we’re always a work in progress in this country.”
McConnell’s citing of Obama’s election prompted some critics to note that he previously said preventing Obama’s reelection was a top Republican priority.
“The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president,” McConnell told National Journal magazine in October 2010.