Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Tuesday compared himself to former President Barack Obama by noting they both oppose reparations and both he and the nation’s first African-American president are descendants of slave holders.
“You know, once again I find myself in the same position as President Obama, we both oppose reparations, and both are the descendants of slave holders,” McConnell said, after he was asked if a report from NBC that his relatives were slave holders changed his views about reparations.
McConnell did not say if he knew about his family’s ownership of slaves before the report was published Monday.
Obama’s office declined to comment on McConnell’s remarks Tuesday.
Obama opposed reparations on the 2008 presidential campaign answering a questionnaire from the NAACP with: “The legacy and stain of slavery are immeasurable; nothing, including reparations, can fully compensate.” Obama did say he applauded the underlying sentiment in “recognizing the continued legacy of slavery, I would prefer to focus on the issues that will directly address these problems.”
More recently, Obama told author Ta-Nehisi Coates in The Atlantic in 2016 that he would rather invest in a more widespread anti-poverty program than a specifically reparations program, making an argument about the political reality of such a proposal.
“So to restate it: I have much more confidence in my ability, or any president or any leader’s ability, to mobilize the American people around a multiyear, multibillion-dollar investment to help every child in poverty in this country than I am in being able to mobilize the country around providing a benefit specific to African Americans as a consequence of slavery and Jim Crow,” Obama said in the interview. “Now, we can debate the justness of that. But I feel pretty confident in that assessment politically.”
Coates, who published a touchstone piece on the topic in 2014, recently testified at a House hearing on reparations earlier this year.
McConnell has previously invoked Obama’s electoral success on the topic of reparations. Last month, he said he opposed reparations for slavery, arguing “none of us currently living are responsible” for what he called America’s “original sin.”
“I don’t think reparations for something that happened 150 years ago for whom none of us currently living are responsible is a good idea,” the Kentucky Republican told reporters in response to a question about whether reparations should be paid or a public apology should be made by Congress or the President.
“We’ve tried to deal with our original sin of slavery by fighting a civil war, by passing landmark civil rights legislation. We elected an African American president,” he said.