Whitehouse's White Office: Rhode Island Senator Has One of the Least Diverse Dem Staffs

Senate Democrats' diversity study finds one of their own has an affinity for all-white spaces

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D., R.I.) / Getty Images
July 13, 2023

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D., R.I.), a self-proclaimed champion of racial justice who has come under fire for his membership in an all-white beach club, has one of the whitest offices in the Senate, according to a report prepared by his Democrat colleagues.

Just 22 percent of Whitehouse’s office identifies as a race other than white. Only 2 individuals on Whitehouse’s nearly-30 person staff identify as black. One of the two is Whitehouse’s chief of staff, whom the senator hired in 2021 following a Washington Free Beacon report that Whitehouse had no minorities on his senior staff.

The demographic information comes from the Senate Democratic Diversity Initiative's sixth-annual staff survey, released just weeks after the Supreme Court's decision overturning affirmative action in college admissions. The initiative, started in 2007 by then-Senate majority leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.), is meant to "develop a Senate staff who reflect the diversity of our Nation and are demographically representative of the constituents they serve."

Whitehouse has for years faced scrutiny for his membership at an exclusive all-white beach club in Newport, Rhode Island. The senator, who claims to have "worked relentlessly toward bringing greater equality of opportunity and outcome to all Americans," pledged to terminate his membership at Bailey’s Beach Club in 2006. But Whitehouse merely transferred the membership to his wife, Sandra Thornton.

Whitehouse has since defended his relationship with the club, which was once described by the New York Times as a retreat where "the ruling class keeps its guard up." When asked by a local paper in 2017 about Bailey Beach Club’s racial composition, Whitehouse said, "It would be nice if [Bailey’s] changed a little bit" and that he would take up the issue "privately."

There is little evidence that Bailey’s has changed. Two years ago, a local Rhode Island paper prodded its members and staff about its pallidity.

"We have Asians, we have [sic] Indian. We have a lot of different ethnic groups here," a Bailey's Beach club employee said.

Just four other Democratic senators employ fewer minorities than Whitehouse: Jeanne Shaheen (N.H.), Tammy Baldwin (Wisc.), Angus King (Maine)—an independent who caucuses with Democrats—and Joe Manchin (W. Va.), who has the whitest Senate office.

The great-great-grandson of a railroad magnate, Whitehouse’s assets are well north of eight figures, according to his latest financial disclosure report. He was educated at the exclusive St. Paul’s School in Concord, New Hampshire, and attended Yale University before earning a law degree from the University of Virginia.

A spokesman for Whitehouse did not respond to a request for comment.