Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid is facing accusations of racism and insensitivity for endorsing a white male U.S. representative to replace retiring Maryland Sen. Barbara Mikulski.
Major Democratic donor Steve Phillips, the founder of progressive group PowerPAC+, slammed the Nevada Democrat’s speedy, public endorsement of Rep. Chris Van Hollen, who is white, to replace the 78-year-old Mikulski, who announced earlier this week that she is stepping down.
“For Harry Reid to come out and endorse Van Hollen is insulting period,” Phillips told Buzzfeed. “But to do it on the anniversary of the Selma 50th anniversary — to make an endorsement that would make the Senate less diverse — is outrageous and insulting.”
Phillips, who is based in San Francisco and is black, was referencing the anniversary of three civil rights marches which began March 7, 1965, in Selma, Ala. A number of politicians are in Selma this weekend attending commemoration ceremonies.
Democrats have numerous other options besides Van Hollen if they want to maintain their claim to being the party of diversity.
Maryland Reps. Elijah Cummings and Donna Edwards, both black, are reportedly considering a run. Former NAACP chief Ben Jealous is also eyeing a bid.
If Democrats wanted to maintain the female representation in the Senate — and Mikulski is considered a pioneering female senator — they have options. Besides Edwards, there is former state Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend or Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.
As Buzzfeed reminds, Democrats’ Senate caucus is even whiter than Republicans’. Both parties have one black senator — Democrats have New Jersey’s Cory Booker and Republicans have South Carolina’s Tim Scott — while the GOP has two Hispanic senators to the Democrats’ one, the embattled New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez.
“That’s how you perpetuate an unequal status quo,” Phillips told Buzzfeed of Reid’s support of Van Hollen. “If there is any interest in putting actions behind rhetoric and equality, he would just stay out,” he said of Reid’s endorsement.
And Reid’s was no generic endorsement.
“Not only would Chris Van Hollen be the best and most effective person for the job, I have no doubt that he is in the best and strongest position to make sure that this Senate seat remains in Democratic hands in a state that just elected a Republican governor,” Reid said in a statement on Friday, just days after Mikulski announced she would resign.
Mikuslski will leave office in Jan. 2017.