Black Democrats, Activists Silent on Whitehouse's White-Only Club Membership

NAACP, Congressional Black Caucus, 49 Democratic senators stay mum

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D., R.I.) (Getty Images)
June 22, 2021

Democratic lawmakers and racial justice advocates have kept quiet about Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse’s membership in a racially exclusionary organization, seemingly satisfied with the Rhode Island Democrat's explanation that it is nothing more than "a long tradition."

The Washington Free Beacon asked all 50 Democratic members of the Senate, as well as the Congressional Black Caucus and the NAACP, for comment on the controversy related to Whitehouse's association with Bailey’s Beach Club. No office, other than Whitehouse’s, responded.

"The club has no such restrictive policy. The club has had and has members of color," a spokesman for Whitehouse said. "The senator has dedicated his entire career to promoting equity and protecting civil rights, as his record shows."

Despite Whitehouse’s insistence, qualifications for membership to Bailey’s Beach Club have been described by one lifelong member as "Jewish, yes ... blacks, not really." The Democrat felt uncomfortable with the seemingly overt discrimination at his club and promised to resign his membership in 2006, only to transfer membership to his wife. Whitehouse faces renewed scrutiny after being confronted by a local reporter who asked if "there are any minority members of the club."

"I think the people who are running the place are still working on that," Whitehouse said.

Considered one of the most exclusive clubs in the state, Bailey’s Beach is admired by Newport denizens and visitors alike for its "much loved ... natural scenery." One young white couple wedded at Bailey’s Beach Club exclaimed "No wonder this is a private club—it is stunning!"

According to its website, the club offers "our membership and their guests lunch and dinner service daily, as well as two full service bars, swimming pool, tennis courts, and nearly a 1/4 mile of private beach front." Job openings for the club expect applications to "demonstrate professionalism in appearance and attitude at all times." The club pays many positions less than $15 per hour and has a policy against tipping.

Reviews on Google for the club, which is formally known as the Spouting Rock Beach Association, were less positive. One local Newport guide expressed exasperation with members who called "the cops on children’s hot dog stands." Another called Bailey’s a "nice place if you can get in, which you can't," adding that membership is by invitation only.

Whitehouse is an influential member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, well known for his scrutiny of nominees to the federal bench. In October 2018, Whitehouse grilled then-Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh about a high school yearbook entry containing a fart joke in order to assess the Trump nominee's worthiness for a lifetime appointment. The 65-year-old senator is holding out hope—15 years after he transferred his membership to avoid political controversy—that his tony beach club might change.

"I'm sorry it hasn't happened yet," Whitehouse told the reporter.