By George E. Curry
The Leadership Conference of Civil Rights (LCCR), a coalition of more than 200 human rights groups, has issued a new congressional report card that reaches the same conclusion that similar analyses by the NAACP has reached in recent years: When it comes to issues important to the civil rights community, every Republican in the House and Senate gets an ‘F.’
The LCCR graded each federal lawmaker on a points system and no Republican supported key civil rights measures more than 45 percent of the time. Even grading on a generous academic curve that translates to a clear F.
The bills members of Congress were graded on included a Fair Housing Amendment, workforce reinvestment, financial reform, gender equality, child tax credit extension.
House Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky). and the lone Black senator, Tim Scott (R-S.C.) each earned a zero. Presumptive GOP presidential candidates Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) scored zero and 5 percent, respectively.
In a warmup to his presidential run, Rand Paul has been criticizing his own party for not making overtures to Black voters. In an interview with CNN last week, he said, “I think in the Republican Party, the biggest mistake we’ve made in the last several decades is we haven’t gone into the African-American community, into the NAACP and say you know what, we are concerned about what’s going on in your cities and we have plans. They may be different than the Democrats, but we do have plans and we do want to help.”
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus has also said the GOP plans to actively compete for the Black vote.
Speaking to the National Association of Black Journalists’ national convention in Boston last summer, he said: “We have become a national party that has decided it is okay to show up every four years, about five months before an election,” he said. “We’ve become a national party that’s really just a U-Haul trailer of cash for a presidential nominee.”
He said that had changed under his watch, noting that he had launched a “full-time engagement program” to attract African Americans, Latino and Asian voters. Priebus said he was also bringing more people of color into the party.
He proclaimed, “”We’re in this for the long haul. We’ve got to get this right.”
But getting it right involves more than invoking new language while continuing the same old patterns. And that’s exactly what Republicans are doing with the votes in Congress and their constant attacks on President Obama.
Their best performers on civil rights voted wrong more than half of the time, according to the LCCR report card. Rep. Christopher Gibson (R-N.Y.) was the top rated Republican at 45 percent, followed by Senator Susan Collins of Maine with 43 percent.
Most Republicans in Congress did far worse.
In the Senate, 18 Republican scored zero: Sessions (Ala.); Boozman (Ark.); Rische (Idaho); Grassley (Iowa); Roberts (Kan.); McConnell and Paul (Kentucky); Blunt (Mo.); Johanns (Neb.); Inhofe (Okl.); Cornyn and Cruz (Texas); Scott, the only African American senator, (S.C.); Thune (S.D.); Cornyn and Cruz (Texas); Lee (Utah); Johnson (Wis.) and Barrasso and Enzi (Wyoming). The only Democrat graded an F was John Kerry, who didn’t complete his term because he resigned Jan. 13 to join the Obama administration as Secretary of State.
In the House, 119 of 233 Republicans earned zeros. Another 57 earned only 5 points, meaning 176 of 233 Republicans scored 5 percent or lower. Still others, such as John McCain earned only 20 percent
By contrast, the entire congressional delegations of Obama’s native Hawaii, Vermont, Massachusetts (excluding John Kerry, who resigned), and Rhode Island each earned 100. Nine of Maryland’s 10-member delegation earned 100.
Though GOP leaders are using, in the words of George W. Bush, kinder, gentler language, they remain downright hostile to civil rights.
It hasn’t always been this way. In the 1960s, for example, civil rights was a bipartisan issue. In fact, if you look at the proportion of each major party voting for the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a larger percentage of Republicans voted for the landmark measure than Democrats. Unlike today, Black Republicans, including Secretary of Transportation Bill Coleman and Assistant Secretary of Labor Arthur Fletcher, championed civil rights. Today, however, Blacks like Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas stand against everything Bill Coleman and Art Fletcher stood for.
Also, White moderates have been chased out of the party in deference to right-wing Tea Party zealots. Consequently, at a time the GOP was poised to become the dominant party, its move to the far right has made it impossible for them to reach that goal in an increasingly diverse America.
Republicans can run for the White House in 2016, but they can’t run away from the Republican record on civil rights.
George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine, is editor-in-chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service (NNPA.) He is a keynote speaker, moderator, and media coach. Curry can be reached through his Web site, www.georgecurry.com. You can also follow him at www.twitter.com/currygeorge and George E. Curry Fan Page on Facebook.