Senior Biden Adviser Says White House Will Start Acting on Reparations Without Congress

March 1, 2021 Updated: March 1, 2021

A senior adviser to President Joe Biden said the White House will act without Congress to develop proposals for reparations, or direct payments to African Americans.

White House senior adviser Cedric Richmond told Axios on Feb. 28: “We don’t want to wait on a study. We’re going to start acting now.”

“We have to start breaking down systemic racism and barriers that have held people of color back and especially African Americans,” Richmond said. “We have to do stuff now.”

“If you start talking about free college tuition to [historically black colleges and universities] and you start talking about free community college in Title I and all of those things, I think that you are well on your way,” he said, noting that a timeline for Congress’s commission to study reparations wasn’t known.

Legislation for reparations was first introduced by Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) in 1989. In recent years, Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) has repeatedly introduced the measure.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki last month told reporters that Biden is open to creating a commission to study the proposal.

Representative Cedric Richmond
Then-Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-La.) speaks during a meeting on Capitol Hill in Washington on June 17, 2020. (Sarah Silbiger/Pool/AFP via Getty Images)

“He certainly would support a study of reparations,” she said. “He understands we don’t need a study to take action right now on systemic racism, so he wants to take actions within his own government in the meantime.”

The idea of reparations has been flagged as problematic for a variety of reasons, including how recipients of reparations would be selected, how much would be doled out, who would foot the bill, and how much it would actually cost.

House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) said in 2019 to the Post and Courier that “pure reparations would be impossible to implement, but we can deal with the issue [of racial inequality] if we just admit, first of all, that it exists and then come up with some straightforward ways to deal with it.”

In the interview, Clyburn said a debate about reparations would lead to a debate about who would be eligible due to extensive family trees that have come about since the abolition of slavery more than 150 years ago. Clyburn said that some white people could make claims to reparations, saying they have family ties to former slaves.

“Is that a fair way to do it?” Clyburn asked. “I say not.”