WASHINGTON — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said reparations are a no-go on Tuesday, citing the election of former president Barack Obama as one way the nation has dealt with its “original sin of slavery.”
“I don’t think reparations for something that happened 150 years ago for whom none of us currently living are responsible is a good idea,” McConnell told reporters Tuesday when asked whether he supported reparations for slavery. “We’ve tried to deal with our original sin of slavery by fighting a civil war, by passing landmark civil rights legislation. We’ve elected an African American president."
The Republican lawmaker went on to say it would be difficult to determine whom to compensate because the nation’s immigrant population too has “experienced dramatic discrimination.”
The statement comes a day ahead of a scheduled House Judiciary Committee hearing on reparations where journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates, who authored the 2014 essay "The Case for Reparations," will join actor and activist Danny Glover in testifying in favor of compensation for the descendants of enslaved people.
Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee has proposed legislation that would establish a 13-member commission to study and consider remedies for people who are descendants of enslaved people. The commission would also consider a national apology for the more than 200-year history of slavery in the US, beginning in the early 1600s.
"Payments are not the focus of H.R. 40. Knowledge is the focus of H.R. 40. ... The Majority Leader may want to deny this bill a hearing, but he cannot deny the horror and the denial of freedom that human bondage represents," Jackson Lee said in a statement to BuzzFeed News. "The majority leader can't deny the free labor that slavery brought; he can't deny the people who died in transit; and he can't deny that this is the 400th anniversary of the beginning of the slave trade.”
The House and the Senate have passed resolutions apologizing for slavery during Obama’s presidency. Several states have also formally apologized for slavery, including Alabama and Arkansas. The nearby state of Kentucky, which McConnell represents, has not.
“I think we’re always a work in progress, 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. So, no, I don’t think reparations are a good idea,” McConnell added.
"The Case for Reparations" was published in 2014. An earlier version of this post misstated the year.