When Democrats were questioned about the appropriateness of Ketanji Brown Jackson’s defense against a sexual assault charge, they had plenty to say. But after multiple reports came out questioning how much was really said on behalf of the victim and what she actually said, some are looking for more answers than just those coming from their party.
Democrats are still discussing an immensely hard and important topic: how to speak about race in America, as Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson builds support for her effort to become the first Black woman to join the Supreme Court.
According to strategists and activists who offered a variety of perspectives — and feelings — during days of meetings regarding Jackson’s brutal treatment at the confirmation hearings last week, it’s a topic many Democrats would prefer ignore.
“When racial problems arise, Democrats get terrified,” said Rashad Robinson, head of the charity Color of Change. He bemoaned the fact that President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris had not spoken out more strongly against Republicans’ racial assaults on Jackson’s record and identity.
“The White House needs to become involved in these battles,” Robinson said. “Republicans will use race and racism as a tool to accomplish their objectives, while Democrats do not prioritize racial justice.”
The criticism, which comes mostly but not solely from left-wing activists, reveals a long-standing split inside the Democratic Party about how to handle one of the country’s deepest and sometimes ugliest schisms. It also comes as Republicans attempt to sway Democratic candidates by tying them to critical race theory, a term that Democrats claim is being brought out of academic obscurity to be used as a racist dog whistle.
The White House’s allies — who refused to speak on the record — say they are proud of Jackson’s performance in the hearings and aware of the larger political consequences. They argue, however, that activists, not politicians, should lead the fight for racial equality.
“Race is constantly on the ballot,” Donna Brazile, the former interim chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee who is advising the White House on Jackson’s confirmation, said.
“But look, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris can’t put out a fire that’s been blazing for over 200 years,” Brazile remarked. “Racism is a fire that never goes out,” she remarked.
‘There isn’t much you can say or do.’
Senator Ted Cruz, a Republican from Texas, grilled Jackson on the curriculum at Georgetown Day School, a progressive private school in Washington where the judge is a board member, in one of the most divisive moments of the hearings last week. (Our colleague Erica Green published an excellent piece on the school’s response.)
“Do you agree with this book that is being taught with youngsters, that infants are racist?” Cruz said as aides presented blown-up page spreads from Ibram X. Kendi’s “Antiracist Baby.”
Exchanges like those enraged many Democratic women, particularly Black women. Several others stated it was an example of how women are often treated with disdain in male-dominated organizations.
Karen Finney, a multiracial Democratic strategist, said, “So many of us have been in that zone when there’s just nothing you can say or do.” “It was bullying, and it infuriated people.”
“She consistently gave them the respect that they would not give her,” Brazile added. “When you walk through that glass, you find yourself with wounds,” she remarked.
On the left, he’s a popular candidate.
Those close to the White House point to months of hard effort by Democrats to assemble a coalition of civil society organizations to back Biden’s choice, fully anticipating Republican assaults on anyone he chooses.
The Democratic National Committee and the White House sent out scores of letters throughout the hearings praising Jackson’s coverage and accused Republicans of being rude.
Senator Cory Booker’s soliloquy praising Jackson’s nomination, which became a global hit on the left, was live-tweeted by D.N.C. head Jaime Harrison, who cheered along.
Polls indicating widespread popular support for Jackson’s confirmation are frequently cited by White House supporters as proof that the administration’s plan is succeeding.
According to the latest Marquette Law School poll released on Wednesday, 66 percent of American adults favor Jackson’s candidacy. During the hearings, the proportion of Americans who believed Jackson was qualified for the position increased, according to the survey.
Other surveys, such as one performed by Pew Research Center in early March, have revealed that having a Black woman on the Supreme Court is very significant to Black Americans. It would be very or very essential to 72% of respondents, with half saying it would be extremely important.
Should you go on the offensive, withdraw, or attempt to do both?
When asked how they should react to Republican assaults on racial issues, Democrats split into a kaleidoscope of viewpoints.
Some Democratic Party members want the party to completely embrace diversity as a “superpower,” as Robinson described it. Others advise Democrats to use triangulation tactics similar to those used by Democrats in the 1990s, such as making a show of criticizing activist slogans like “defund the cops,” as Biden did during his State of the Union speech.
Some, mostly party insiders who wouldn’t comment on the record, would rather shift the conversation to “kitchen table” topics like infrastructure, employment, and health care, where they believe Democrats have a better position.
Others argue that Democrats are capable of doing both.
Finney, who has coached senior Democratic leaders on how to talk about race, said that Democrats couldn’t ignore Republican assaults and that they needed to learn how to counter with “shared ideals” of justice and equality.
“The message should be that everyone deserves respect and an opportunity to thrive, and that part of what makes America great is that we’re always trying to improve our democracy and learn from our failures,” Finney said.
William Galston, a Brookings Institution scholar who co-wrote “The Politics of Evasion,” an influential treatise on the Democratic Party’s problem with swing voters, with Elaine Kamarck in 1989, said it made sense for the party to “retreat to more defensible lines” on certain issues, including critical race theory.
“Most Americans favor teaching both the positive and negative sides of our history, including slavery and racial discrimination, but they will not tolerate pedagogy that divides students along racial and ethnic lines,” Galston and Kamarck wrote in a recent essay, reiterating some of their themes from 1989.
Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson’s Nomination: 3 Things to Know
1st of 3 cards
1. Her confirmation is almost certain. Following a tumultuous series of hearings, Democrats have come together to support Judge Jackson. Senator Joe Manchin III’s endorsement meant that all 50 Senate Democrats would vote in favor of her candidacy, which Republicans would be unable to block.
2. Republicans express strong — but not complete — opposition. During the tumultuous hearings, G.O.P. senators slammed Judge Jackson’s record and probed her on a variety of hot subjects. Senator Susan Collins said that she will vote in favor of the judge’s appointment. It’s uncertain if she’ll be joined by other Republicans.
3. The impending election. The Senate Judiciary Committee is anticipated to vote on Judge Jackson’s nomination on April 4 when the confirmation hearings are completed. Before the start of a two-week break, Democrats hope to rush it to the Senate floor for a final vote.
A new generation of activists say that retreating from cultural confrontations rather than racing into them is an outmoded stance. They argue that inspiring people of color and persuading them to vote at greater rates is more vital to the Democratic Party’s future than clinging to a dwindling white majority.
“To be honest,” Steve Phillips, a famous progressive Democratic contributor, said of party officials, “I believe they’re poor at arithmetic.” “They undervalue people of color and place a larger value on ostensibly persuadable white swing votes.”
“They’re restricted by their fear of criticism from individuals who won’t vote for them anyhow,” he continued.
Georgia’s Republican legislators have backed down (for the time being) on an election measure.
A nonpartisan group of local election officials in Georgia spoke out against a broad election law that Republicans were rushing through the state’s General Assembly this week, culminating in a two-hour hearing in Atlanta on Monday.
Republicans in the State Senate seem to have taken note of their complaints, reducing the bill to just one provision: allowing voters to take two hours off work to vote early in person. (At the moment, they can only do so on Election Day.)
The shortened version, which is just one and a half pages long, differs significantly from the original measure that cleared the House earlier this month. That 40-page bill would have increased the Georgia Bureau of Investigation’s authority over suspected election crimes, banned private election financing, empowered partisan poll observers, and introduced new criteria for monitoring absentee votes as they were checked and tallied.
Republicans in the State Senate seemed to set up a battle with their colleagues in the State House, who had made plain their desire for a far larger package, by substituting out practically all of the measure at this late point. However, the bill’s author, State Representative James Burchett, went before the Senate committee discussing the bill on Tuesday and looked to be on board with the adjustments.
Republicans in the State House will have a tight deadline if they attempt to return some of the election measures to the bill and vote on it again: the Georgia legislature will adjourn in less than a week.
For the time being, it seems that bipartisan opposition from local election officials was sufficient to move lawmakers on an election bill — and may even have spurred them to slightly enhance voting access in a key swing state.
But, of course, it isn’t finished yet, and the Georgia legislature has shown its ability to turn rapidly in the past. Keep an eye out for updates.
Thank you for taking the time to read this. We’ll talk again tomorrow.
— Blake & Leah
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