By Naomi Lim, Washington Examiner
Beto O’Rourke faced pressure to explain his plan for reparations if he is elected is president, a day after voicing support for making amends to Black Americans for centuries of slavery.
Yet as the Democrat attempts to court Black voters in South Carolina, he was dodgy on details, choosing instead to kick the question to a future date when he said white Americans better understand the history of enslavement in the U.S.
“I don’t think the history lesson is incidental,” O’Rourke told reporters on Saturday after a journalist cut him off mid-response. “I think it’s telling everyone, especially white America, which forms the majority, understands the story. In a democracy you’re never going to get to a solution.”
In April, O’Rourke told Rev. Al Sharpton at his New York National Action Network convention that he would “absolutely” support the formation of a reparations commission through a bill re-introduced by Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas. He again endorsed the proposal on Saturday as the “best path” moving forward “formally and legally.”
“And it’s only after you’ve done that,” the former Texas congressman said, referring to the “national conversation” a commission would trigger, “that you can begin to quantify reparations and define who it is those reparations are paid to or what form that payment takes.”
O’Rourke was in South Carolina for the Black Economic Alliance Presidential Forum. During the event, he unveiled a plan to spur half-a-trillion-dollars worth of economic opportunities for women and minorities. His framework includes setting the goal of creating more than 200,000 new women- and minority- owned small businesses after eight years by stamping out sexism and racism in lending markets through an injection of resources, an emphasis on transparency, and simplifying the tax code. He also pitched the redirection of $100 billion in government contract toward small businesses rather than awarding them to large corporations.
The conversation about reparations was reignited Friday night when O’Rourke told citizens of the Gullah Geechee Nation, a community descended from slaves whose isolated coastal lifestyle has enabled them to preserve aspects of their African heritage, during a roundtable event in Beaufort, S.C.
“The answer is yes. We must repair this country from its very founding, kidnapping peoples from West Africa, bringing them here in bondage to literally build the wealth of the United States,” he said, according to the Associated Press. “The path there, though, has to come through learning and telling this American story with everyone. Then, I think, we define what reparations look like.”
Jackson Lee’s measure, H.R. 40, will be subject to a House Judiciary Committee hearing next Wednesday, the first time the legislation, proposed by former Rep. John Conyers in 1989, will be given such consideration.
O’Rourke ranks sixth, with 3.5% support, in the latest RealClearPolitics average of polls for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.
This article originally appeared in the Washington Examiner.