Newswire : Pelosi announces push for staff diversity for new U.S House

By Lauren Victoria Burke, NNPA Newswire Contributor

With the largest Congressional Black Caucus in history along with a historic number of women entering the U.S. House in 2019, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has announced plans for a new emphasis on staff diversity in the U.S. House. The effort will call attention to the ongoing diversity problem on Capitol Hill. Very few senior staff positions on the Senate side are held by Blacks or Latinos. On the House side of Capitol Hill most staff top positions are employed by member of the CBC. “We know that the diversity in our ranks is a strength and a reflection of the American people,” Pelosi wrote to colleagues last week. She is expected to run for Speaker and lead Democrats once again when the new Congress convenes in January. A new House Diversity Initiative would create a permanent office in the House with sufficient staff to help recruit and retain diverse employees according to staff. Much of the pressure over the last few years regarding the diversity issue on Capitol Hill has come as a result of study and effort by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies headed by Spencer Overton. The Joint Center applauded Pelosi’s letter to her Democratic House colleagues emphasizing the importance of staff diversity. The letter featured several Joint Center recommendations. “Leader Pelosi deserves credit for laying down an early marker on the need to take action to increase top staff diversity in Congress,” said Joint Center President Spencer Overton. “This is a good start, and we look forward to continuing to work with Leader Pelosi to diversify congressional top staff.” Pelosi’s letter encouraged members of Congress to hire diverse staff. She also announced her hope that the Democratic Caucus would formally adopt the Rooney Rule, which requires interviewing at least one person of color for every top staff position. The top positions, or “senior staff” positions in each congressional office are: chief of staff, legislative director, communications director. “The incoming majority of the U.S. House of Representatives will be the most diverse in our nation’s history,” said Don Bell, Director of the Black Talent Initiative at the Joint Center. “Leader Pelosi’s letter is a good beginning toward the work ahead to ensure that the senior and mid-level staff of the U.S. House reflect the diversity of America.” The Joint Center published a report in September 2018 that found that although people of color account for 38 percent of the U.S. population, they account for only 13.7 percent of the top staffers of the U.S. House of Representatives (161 out of 1174 top staffers). Nine new members of the Black Caucus will likely include Lucy McBath (GA-06), Ayanna Pressley (MA-07), Lauren Underwood (IL14), Steven Horsford (NV-04), Antonio Delgado (NY-19), Joe Neguse (CO-02), Colin Allred (TX-32), Illhan Omar (MN-08) and Jahanna Hayes (CT-02). There will also likely be five new African American full committee Chairmen and Chairwomen when the new Congress convenes in January.

Newswire : Senators Kamala Harris and Cory Booker join powerful Judiciary Committee

By Frederick H. Lowe


 Sen. Kamala Harris and Sen Cory Booker

(TriceEdneyWire.com) – Senator Kamala Harris (D-California) and Senator Cory Booker (D-New Jersey) yesterday were selected to join the Senate Judiciary Committee, a very powerful committee that plays a key role in considering U.S. Supreme Court, federal appeals court and district court nominations.
Harris replaces former Senator Al Franken (D-Minnesota) who resigned from office on January 2 after several allegations of sexual misconduct had been leveled against him. Booker’s appointment was made possible by Democrat Doug Jones’s election to the U.S. Senate following a special election in Alabama. The election gave Democrats another seat in the Senate.
Harris is the second black woman to serve on the Judiciary Committee. Former Senator Carol Moseley Braun (D-Illinois) was the first. Booker is the first black man to serve on the committee.
Booker tweeted from @corybooker : “Excited to join the Judiciary Committee. It’ll be my mission to check awful actions by Trump & Sessions; keep working to advance the cause of reforming our broken justice system; and to bend the arc of history closer toward equal justice for all.”
Harris tweeted from @SenKamalaHarris: “Thrilled to share that I’ve been appointed to the Senate Judiciary Committee. You have my commitment that I will fight for justice on behalf of Californians and all Americans.”
Republicans still have a one-seat advantage on the committee of 11 to 10. Senator Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) is committee chair and Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-California) is the ranking Democrat.
The Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies hailed both appointments. “The appointment of Senators Harris and Booker to the Senate Judiciary Committee is another important step in the movement to create a more representative Senate and will have a meaningful impact on how policy is made,” said Spencer Overton, president and CEO of the Joint Center, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank for black-elected officials.
The Judiciary Committee has oversight over the Department of Justice, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and components of the Department of Homeland Security.
The committee considers legislation that impacts immigration, criminal justice and intellectual property.

The CBC places Blacks in power on Capitol Hill

By Lauren Victoria Burke (NNPA Newswire Contributor)

hillstaffers_7892_fallen_web120More than 75 percent of the members of the Congressional Black Caucus have Black Chiefs of Staff. This photo was taken during a recent CBC press conference outside of the Department of Justice in Washington, D.C. (Freddie Allen/AMG/NNPA)

 

In early December, the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies led by Spencer Overton, released a devastating report on staff diversity in the United States Senate.“African-Americans make up 13 percent of the U.S. population, but only 0.9 percent of top Senate staffers,” the report found.

The Joint Center was careful to focus on senior staff positions in their Senate staff study. On January 5, the National Urban League will host a forum on Senate staff diversity on Capitol Hill. The only good news regarding the numbers on Black staff in the halls of power in Capitol Hill is on the House side.

More than 75 percent of the members of the Congressional Black Caucus have Black Chiefs of Staff. Currently, 32 members of the CBC have a Black Chief of Staff. Additionally, the Senate’s only Black Republican, Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC), currently employs the Senate’s only Black Chief of Staff.

In July, Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan posted a photo on Instagram of over 70 Capitol Hill interns and not one was African American. Internships and fellowships on Capitol Hill are a key pipeline to building leadership experience in the halls of power.

Speaker Ryan’s Instagram image was a jarring visual of what many have known on Capitol Hill for years: That the staffs and the pipelines to get to power and be positioned for decision-making roles remains overwhelmingly White. Ironically, Ryan will have a Black Chief of Staff, Jon Burks, starting this month.

But when it comes to the number of senior staffers in Congress overall, particularly Chiefs of Staff, members of the CBC easily employ the majority. Though Black Chiefs of Staff are all but non-existent (1 percent) in the U.S. Senate, on the House side it’s a different story. Black Chiefs include Duron Marshall who is Rep. Brenda Lawrence’s (D-Mich.) Chief of Staff; Yelberton Watkins, who is Rep. Jim Clyburn’s (D-S.C.) longtime Chief of Staff; Michael Cooper who is Rep. John Lewis’ (D-Ga.) Chief of Staff and Veleter Mazyck, who is Rep. Marcia Fudge’s (D-Ohio) Chief of Staff.

It matters who serves in the very top jobs: Those in senior staff positions have a major say in policy decisions and advise lawmakers directly. Chiefs of Staff and other senior staff members often move on to powerful well paying jobs in the private sector.

On Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., just as in most places where there are budgets allocations to be decided on and jobs to fill, the person who makes the decision on those matters is the person with the most power and that often is not only the elected official, but also their Chief of Staff.             The Chief is also the gatekeeper for resumes and hiring staff. A typical Chief of Staff on Capitol Hill earns between $120,000 and $168,000.The conversation on hiring has been going on for years, but it was crystalized by the detailed report by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies.

For many White Democrats in the Senate the numbers are particularly embarrassing. Several Senators, who have millions of African American constituents, have no Black senior staff members. The state with the most African Americans in the U.S. is Georgia with 3.1 African Americans according to the 2010 Census. Georgia is followed by New York (3 million), Florida (2.9 million), Texas (2.9 million), California (2.9 million), North Carolina (2 million), Illinois (1.8 million), Maryland (1.7 million), Virginia (1.5 million) and Louisiana (1.5 million).

But not one Black senior staffer from any of those states now serves on the staffs of the U.S. Senators from the above states with the largest African American populations. None of them have a Black Chief of Staff, Legislative Director, Communications Director or State Director.

On December 12, outgoing Congressional Black Caucus Chairman G.K. Butterfield released a statement on staff diversity. “The near complete absence of African American senior staff in personal and committee offices in the Senate is not reflective of the inclusiveness ideals of our government, and of our country. The CBC has long championed African American inclusion in all industries, and launched CBC TECH 2020 last year to promote diversity in the technology industry,” said Butterfield. “But the fact that the United States Congress, an institution that was created to represent all people, still has not taken meaningful steps to increase diversity is disappointing and requires an immediate remedy.”

Butterfield continued: “There are plenty of offices hiring, on both sides of the aisle, and in both chambers, where Senators and Representatives can hire talented African American candidates. Yet, from our records, with the start of the next Congress, the Senate is poised to have one African American Senate Chief of Staff and no African American staff directors, if immediate action is not taken.”

Lauren Victoria Burke is a political analyst who speaks on politics and African American leadership. Lauren is also a frequent contributor to the NNPA Newswire and BlackPressUSA.com. She can be contacted at LBurke007@gmail.com and on Twitter at @LVBurke.