Senate Democrats Accused of 'Soft Bigotry' for Nearly All-White Senior Staff

Dem Sens., from left, Bernie Sanders (I.), Harry Reid, Al Franken, and Richard Blumenthal
December 9, 2016

Liberal activists and Washington, D.C. political insiders are coming together to pressure Senate Democrats to add more diversity to their senior staff positions dominated by white males, accusing the Democratic Party of "soft bigotry."

African-Americans and Latinos hold less than three percent of the top staff staff jobs for Senate Democrats, but they constitute more than one-third of the party's self-identified members nationwide, Politico reported Wednesday.

"I don't think anybody is nefarious" in denying minorities opportunities for senior positions," Sen. Brian Schatz (D., Hawaii) told Politico. "But we're just not getting it done, and we need to hold ourselves accountable as an institution."

Schatz, who has worked with Sen. Cory Booker (D., N.J.) to diversify the "lily-white complexion" of the chamber's ranks, as Politico phrased it, added that bringing up this issue is "an uncomfortable conversation" but lawmakers and their staff need to grapple with "frankly, an ugly history in the Capitol," referencing how part of the building's dome was constructed by slaves.

Activists from Black Lives Matter and other left-wing organizations are now shaming Senate Democrats into diversifying their ranks, noting that the Senate's only African-American chief of staff works for a Republican, Tim Scott of South Carolina.

But they are not alone. Democratic consultants and lobbyists who work inside the Beltway are also calling for Senate Democrats to make a more concerted effort to lift the white, male stranglehold on their senior staff.

"As minority lobbyists, we know we invest in the DSCC [Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee] directly, financially, and we want them to, in return, invest in us as a community and not just take our money and then–when they make decisions on who to hire as vendors and staff–to look the other way," Oscar Ramirez, a lobbyist at the Podesta Group, told Politico.

Retiring Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) tried to address the issue 10 years ago by launching a diversity initiative, which has led to a compilation of hundreds of resumes of minority job candidates. The resumes have yet to make an impact on the senior Democratic positions in the chamber.

Lobbyists have commenced meetings to discuss how to proceed on this issue.

"We all need to do a better job making the Senate a diverse place, and that's a responsibility I take seriously," incoming Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) said. He has not decided whether he will endorse legislation to create a chief diversity officer for the Senate, which would also require offices to report their hiring statistics.

Schumer attended a retreat in June of former and current staffers working on the issue of increasing diversity.

"Progress in the Senate has always been slow, but increasing diversity among Senate staff demands urgency and attention–not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because more ideas and perspectives at the table change the conversation and lead to better solutions to our nation’s most pressing challenges," Booker said in a statement.