McConnell on slavery reparations: Not 'a good idea'

Countries such as Austria, Canada, France and Germany have atoned for past wrongs by paying reparations.
Image: enate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell speaks to the media on Capitol Hill on June 18, 2019.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell speaks to the media on Capitol Hill on June 18, 2019.Leah Millis / Reuters

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By Dartunorro Clark and Frank Thorp V

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday that he opposed reparations for descendants of American slaves, arguing it would be hard to figure out who to compensate.

"I don't think reparations for something that happened 150 years ago when none of us currently living are responsible is a good idea," the Kentucky Republican told reporters. "We've tried to deal with our original sin of slavery by fighting a civil war, by passing landmark civil rights legislation. We've elected an African American president."

McConnell comments came the day before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties is scheduled to hold a hearing on the topic for the first time in over a decade. Writer Ta-Nehisi Coates, whose 2014 essay in The Atlantic, "The Case for Reparations," pushed the issue back into the national dialogue, and actor Danny Glover are slated to testify.

The case for reparations

June 16, 201907:40

The reparations debate has also become part of the 2020 presidential race. Several Democratic candidates have either come out in favor of reparations or at least said the issue should be studied to figure out how to compensate the descendants of slaves.

But McConnell said "it would be pretty hard to figure out who to compensate."

"I think we're always a work in progress in this country, but no one currently alive was responsible for that, and I don't think we should be trying to figure out how to compensate for it," he said. "First of all, it would be pretty hard to figure out who to compensate. We've had waves of immigrants as well who have come to the country and experienced dramatic discrimination of one kind or another."

Countries such as Austria, Canada, France and Germany have atoned for past wrongs by paying reparations. Congress also paid reparations to Japanese Americans who were held at internment camps, first with the Japanese American Evacuation Claims Act of 1948 and then the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, both of which allocated millions for survivors.