The sudden resignation of House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) may have been a House of Cards-like script waiting in the lurch, but it was the last thing we saw coming the day after Pope Francis’ mic drop before Congress.
Current House Majority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) is favored to take over the speakership, even if ultraconservative Tea Party soldiers in the House Freedom Caucus build speed bumps in the road. And House Majority Whip Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.) will find himself in a bloody fight with more than several Republicans lining up for majority leader.
The Root’s readers might ask: This means exactly what to black folks? Before you dismiss all of the above as blah-blah-blah Washington-insider rubbish, it’s far from it. The Root offers five reasons to pay as much attention to this as we did the season 2 opener of Empire:
1. The leadership composition of the House determines legislation directly impacting black people. A reminder: There were a few bills in the House attempting to move the needle on police violence, racial profiling and conduct issues. The problem is that, last check, none passed: They never saw the light of voting day beyond their corresponding House committees (save one earlier symbolic, but largely toothless, Death in Custody Reporting Act that did become law).
That’s not surprising: Republicans run Congress, and there is only one Republican—Mia Love of Utah—in the Congressional Black Caucus. How does a GOP-leadership shakeup affect that? We pretty much know the answer, but we can’t afford to ignore the question. There was a very small, encouraging sign this past spring when McCarthy decided to buck GOP leadership and make a visit to Selma, Ala., to observe the 50th anniversary of the fated march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge. But don’t hold your breath on any progress, fam.
2. If McCarthy becomes speaker of the House, it’s time to force Silicon Valley to put money where its mouth is on diversity in tech. McCarthy hails from Southern California, representing a mostly rural and exurban district north of Los Angeles, but he’s also extremely tight with titans of the tech industry such as Apple, Microsoft and Facebook—each dropping generous loads of cash into his campaign and leadership PAC over the past few years.
Which should mean that the Congressional Black Caucus finds fresh new leverage in its war for more diversity in the tech sector. It’s no secret that largely white Silicon Valley companies have a problem hiring blacks and Latinos, and the CBC has done a solid job shining fresh light on the issue. In a perfect world, the CBC should use its 44 House members to gum up the speaker race and arm-wrestle tangible tech concessions out of McCarthy; but realistically, they should start putting heat on his cozy relationship with tech as a way to force digital “old boys” into more immediate progress.
3. That guy who gave a speech to white supremacists in 2002? Yeah, well, he’s about to get a promotion. Scalise never really paid any political price once he admitted to speaking at a white nationalist summit over a decade ago. And while it may have been a long time ago, old habits can die hard: Former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard, onetime gubernatorial candidate and now soft-white-power advocate David Duke actually called Scalise a “personal friend.”
Scalise moved on unscathed and kept his gig as House majority whip despite calls from civil rights groups such as the National Urban League and Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights for his removal. Of course, it didn’t help that black Democratic congressman and fellow Louisiana delegation member Cedric Richmond openly vouched for Scalise. Months later, even when the Leadership Conference sent Scalise a letter blasting him for opposition to the Voting Rights Act, he’s on the cusp of another and even better post than the last. That doesn’t necessarily help the GOP’s case on outreach.
4. Thankfully, the government shutdown didn’t happen this week—but it’s coming in December. We’re all wiping our foreheads and letting out a unified “Phew!” as the Senate finally passed a temporary federal budget and Boehner plans to push it through by deadline.
But temporary is all it is. Sources tell The Root that this thing is still likely to happen in December as Democrats and Republicans continue to needlessly spit over Planned Parenthood funding and other issues. There’s no sign McCarthy will be any better equipped to manage that than Boehner was. And when the government shuts down, guess who hurts the most: black people.
Twenty percent of federal workers are black (making them the second-largest federal workforce), and African Americans disproportionately rely on programs like Head Start, WIC and others that will be defunded if the shutdown lingers more than a few weeks. That doesn’t even include the economic havoc on the black middle class and states with large black federal civilian workforces and their communities.
5. The GOP is already heavily Southern leaning. Wait till this leadership lines up. What will be the character of the new House leadership? First take is that it will be very rural and very Southern. At least with Boehner, we had a Northeastern, deal-cutting Republican in the House and a Southern Cali Westerner (McCarthy) as his No. 2.
This next mix-up could be dominated by Southerners bringing in their Southern agenda: Scalise as majority leader with the majority whip and other positions more dominated by Southerners or folks from rural parts. Constant polarization in the House has been more about regional differences than Tea Party rebellion. It’s not always a good sign for African Americans when Southern white conservative politicians increase their influence. The South wants its clout back (did it ever lose it?).
Charles D. Ellison is a veteran political strategist and a contributing editor at The Root. He is also Washington correspondent for the Philadelphia Tribune, a frequent contributor to The Hill, the weekly Washington insider for WDAS-FM in Philadelphia and host of The Ellison Report, a weekly public-affairs magazine broadcast and podcast on WEAA 88.9 FM Baltimore. Follow him on Twitter.