Senate Democrats Consider Forming BIPOC Caucus Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J. (David J. Phillip/AP)
By Charlie McCarthy | Tuesday, 11 May 2021 12:38 PM
A group of racially and ethnically diverse Senate Democrats have discussed creating a Black, Indigenous, and People of Color Caucus, it was reported Tuesday.
Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., and Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, are leading the effort to unify the group of eight senators of color, according to The Washington Post.
Sens. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., Alex Padilla, D-Calif., Catherine Masto Cortez, D-Nev., Ben Ray Luján, D-N.M., and Robert Menendez, D-N.J., are the other members of the group.
Whether a BIPOC formally gets announced week remained unclear, the Post added.
A Democrat Senate staffer cautioned, while "there's clearly been interest in working together," a BIPOC caucus had not yet "materialized in a formal way."
"There's never been a critical mass of senators of color to even form a caucus – so on the House side, the Congressional Asian Caucus included Hirono and [then California Sen.] Kamala Harris but they didn't have their own caucus in the Senate," Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders Victory Fund President Varun Nikore told the Post's Power Up.
"Now that this critical mass is at 8, it means there's a lot of issues we can work on together at this very critical time in our history."
The 8 senators unofficially have banded together on various legislative issues recently. They all will attend the AAPI Victory Fund's first-ever Asian Pacific American Heritage Month Unity Summit virtually next week, according to Post sources.
The group of senators issued a joint statement last month condemning "discrimination and racism" against the AAPI community. The members called for passage of the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act, which ultimately was passed by the Senate.
"The Senate has long struggled to be a place that truly reflects the American people, and representation matters, especially in a representative body," Booker told the Post. "We've made strides forward in recent years to correct these shortcomings, electing more Black, Latina/o, AAPI and indigenous people, and women, to the Senate and bringing new priorities, ideas, and perspectives to the table. But we still have a long way to go, and that's why focusing on bringing greater diversity to the Senate – from the staff level on up – must remain a priority."
Nikore lamented the 2016 "handwringing" over whether the Democratic Party should "double down on the Midwest and reach out to those working-class blue collar voters – part of the traditional Democratic base – or focus on the fact that Blacks, Latinos, and AAPIs are the fastest-growing population."
"It was an either or situation when it should have been a collective one," he added.
"From 2016 to 2020, with virtually no investment, AAPIs had at least a 46% increase in voter turnout, the biggest increase in a generation, enough to help put Joe Biden over the top," AAPI Victory Fund said in a statement about next week's summit. "Sadly, AAPIs have also experienced a rise in hate directed at them, with Stop AAPI Hate having received more than 6,600 anti-hate reports since March 2020."
Warnock is the first Black senator to represent Georgia, according to Pew Research. He and Booker are 2 out of 11 Blacks who have served in the Senate.
Padilla is the first Hispanic senator to represent California.
"Although recent congresses have continued to set new highs for racial and ethnic diversity, they have still been disproportionately white when compared with the overall U.S. population," Pew Research's Katherine Schaeffer said.
"Non-Hispanic white Americans account for 77% of voting members in the new Congress, considerably larger than their 60% share of the U.S. population overall. This gap hasn't narrowed with time: In 1981, 94% of members of Congress were white, compared with 80% of the U.S. population."
In 2017, Booker was a key player behind the Democrats' push to increase diversity in committee and personal office staffs.
The New Jersey senator has the upper chamber's most diverse staff, according to a study conducted in August of 2020 by LaShonda Brenson of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies.