Senate Staffers Vow to Address the Continual Lack of Diversity in U.S. Senate

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Cory BookerLast year, we reported on a study conducted by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies that revealed the continual low numbers of African Americans in the nation’s top Senate positions.    

Not much has changed since then. The December 2015 Joint Center report cited that just 24 of the 336 senior Senate staff people were people of color and of the 24, just 3 were Black: Senators Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Tim Scott (R-S.C.) among them.

“There are talented African Americans ready, willing, and able to take leadership roles in the United States Senate and in the House. There are plenty of offices hiring, on both sides of the aisle, and in both chambers, where Senators and Representatives can hire talented African American candidates. Yet, from our records, with the start of the next Congress, the Senate is poised to have one African American Senate Chief of Staff and no African American staff directors if immediate action is not taken,” Congressional Black Caucus Chairman G.K. Butterfield said in a recent statement.

According to the New York Daily News, Booker along with Senator Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) are taking proactive steps to zone in on the problem and identify solutions.

The Senate Black Legislative Staff Caucus (SBLSC) is also onboard. Online reports state that in November, the organization sent a letter and a document of recommendations to Senate leaders and every Senate office. The recommendations include: create of a nonpartisan diversity office that would collect and make public demographic data on Senate offices (no such effort currently exists); create senior-level fellowship partnerships and intern pipelines in each office and give more resources to the Office of Compliance to help it boost diversity efforts.

The News reports that both Booker and Schatz are willing to work with incoming Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) on new ideas, and sit down with SBLSC Chairman Don Bell. For Schumer’s part, his office has “pledged to continue and build upon Senator Harry Reid’s Diversity Initiative,” which Reid set up a decade ago.

Though progress has been exceedingly slow, three more people of color are slated to join the Senate next year: Sen.-elect Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) of African American and Indian American descent; Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) who is Asian American; and Sen.-elect Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), who will be the first Latina senator.

CBC Chairman Butterfield added, “We have made progress in the diversity of the officials we elect to Congress, but the lack of senior African American staff within these offices is alarming. The CBC does not accept the excuses of tech companies for their lack of diversity, nor shall we accept excuses from others on an issue so critical. The United States Congress must lead by example. We call on our colleagues to increase the diversity on their staff and stand ready to help them source skilled and qualified candidates for these senior roles.”