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Democratic Sen. Cory Booker introduces bill to explore slavery reparations

He's the first 2020 Democratic presidential candidate to take action on the initiative

Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) introduced legislation Monday to explore the possibility of reparation payments to the descendants of American slaves, becoming the first 2020 Democratic presidential contender to take action on the reemerged initiative.

What are the details?

Booker made the announcement via Twitter, saying "I am proud to introduce legislation that will finally address many of our country's policies — rooted in a history of slavery and white supremacy — that continue to erode Black communities, perpetuate racism and implicit bias, and widen the racial wealth gap."

The bill filed by Booker is a companion to legislation introduced by Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) in January, known as H.R. 40, which was originally pitched by former Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) in 1989. Jackson Lee's bill would establish a "Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African-Americans to examine slavery and discrimination in the colonies and the United States from 1619 to present and recommend appropriate remedies."

According to Fox News, Booker explained, "This bill is a way of addressing head-on the persistence of racism, white supremacy, and implicit racial bias in our country. It will bring together the best minds to study the issue and propose solutions that will finally begin to right the economic scales of past harms and make sure we are a country where all dignity and humanity is affirmed."

Booker added, "Since slavery in this country, we have had overt policies fueled by white supremacy and racism that have oppressed African Americans economically for generations. Many of our bedrock domestic policies that have ushered millions of Americans into the middle class have systematically excluded blacks through practices like GI Bill discrimination and redlining."

The practices Booker referred to are instances where banks refused to lend to African American veterans in the past, in spite of government-backed loans, and by carving out minority-occupied geographical areas shunned by lenders.

Anything else?

Booker's action isn't a shock given the fact the several of his fellow 2020 rivals have voiced support of granting reparations to slave descendants. But for a politician who was previously viewed as moderate — and even defended by conservative outlets for prior initiatives on the subject matter — his decision to embrace of Jackson Lee's bill is noteworthy.

The Texas congresswoman has a notorious reputation for stirring controversy. Most recently, she had to step down from two leadership posts over allegations that she fired an aide after she came forward with rape claims against Jackson Lee's chief of staff.

Nonetheless, Booker says he is passionate about carrying forward his plans. In a recent CNN town hall, he said the discussion surrounding reparations has been "reduced to a box to check on a presidential list, when this is so much more of a serious conversation," Politico reported.

"Do I support legislation that is race-conscious about balancing the economic scales?" Booker asked. "Not only do I support it, but I have legislation that actually does it."

This piece has been updated.

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