DNC Chair Jaime Harrison makes case for why Black voters should support Dems in 2022 elections 

EXCLUSIVE: “One thing I learned in 2020 is you can make your own history,” Harrison said during a sit-down interview with theGrio

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If history and polling are any indications, Democrats, who currently control the White House and Congress, face an uphill battle in November’s election contests to fend off a Republican takeover in Congress. 

Support for President Joe Biden has declined significantly among Americans – more notably among Black Americans — and with a few exceptions in the modern era, the political party of the sitting president has historically lost its majority in the U.S. House, Senate, or both.

Despite these probabilities, Jaime Harrison, chairman of the Democratic National Committee (DNC), remains optimistic that Democrats can defy the odds in the upcoming 2022 midterm elections.

Democratic National Committee Chairman, Jaime Harrison speaks on voting rights at the Louis Stokes Library of Howard University in Washington, DC on July 8, 2021. (Photo by MANDEL NGAN / AFP) (Photo by MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images)

“One thing I learned in 2020 is you can make your own history,” Harrison said during a sit-down interview with theGrio

Referring to former President Donald Trump’s crushing defeat in the 2020 presidential election, Harrison said, “History also taught us that incumbent presidents rarely lose reelection. Well, for the first time in almost 30 years, an incumbent president lost.”

The January 2021 special run-off election wins in Georgia by Democratic Senators Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, Harrison added, also defied historical precedent.

The election victories for Democrats in 2020, however, were largely credited to the massive turnout of Black voters, whose support for President Biden and Democrats has waned.

According to HIT Strategies, which researches the trends of Black and minority voters, the percentage of support among Black Americans for Biden’s handling of the community’s needs declined from 93% in September 2021 to 78% in January 2022. Still, Biden maintains supermajority support from Black voters. The question remains, however, whether the reliably Democratic voters will show up to the polls.

Two major issues that have been at the forefront for Black Americans have been the push to pass federal voting rights reform to combat a wave of restrictive voting laws being passed by Republican state legislatures across the country, and police reform in response to countless deadly police killings of Black Americans. So far, Democrats have been unsuccessful at maneuvering around the filibuster in the U.S. Senate to pass either of those bills. 

US President Joe Biden, with (L-R) Vice President Kamala Harris, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Democrat of California, arrives to speak about the American Rescue Plan in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, DC, on March 12, 2021. (Photo by Olivier DOULIERY / AFP) (Photo by OLIVIER DOULIERY/AFP via Getty Images)

What’s more, moderate Democratic Senators Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Krysten Sinema of Arizona have refused to change or eliminate the filibuster to pass either bill. Manchin also dealt a blow to the Democratic agenda in December when he announced that he would not vote in favor of President Biden’s Build Back Better agenda that would have extended the child tax credit, among other social spending programs.

Harrison confirmed previous reporting by theGrio that Democrats are exploring ways they can break up the Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act and George Floyd Justice in Policing Act in order to make voting rights and police reform a reality. But he lamented, “I wish I had the vote in the Senate, but I don’t.”

In the meantime, the chairman said the DNC is doing its part to ensure voter protection.

“We’ve been building the largest voter protection team in the history of the Democratic Party [and] in the history of the DNC,” said Harrison. “We’re putting voter protection staff all across the country…staff on the ground who can help educate our voters, make sure that they have all the resources and the things that are necessary so that they can devise a vote plan and actually go and have their vote count.”

As for the Floyd bill, Harrison added, “We will continue to push for it, not because it’s a good campaign promise or because it’s the right thing. And that’s what this party is all about – doing what we know is the right thing to improve the lives of people across this country.”

But there are other issues important to Black Americans, according to data tracked by HIT Strategies, like the COVID economic recovery, inflation and wages, health care, crime and student loan debt. 

Making the case for Biden and Democrats, Harrison said, the president “inherited so many issues and problems from Donald Trump [and] has been rolling up his sleeves along with the vice president and Democrats in the House and Senate to try to address those issues.”

“There was such a disproportionate amount of resources going into Black communities to deal with the COVID crisis and this president and the Democrats in Congress changed it,” Harrison told theGrio. “We also saw a disproportionate number of Black businesses not getting the resources necessary in order to stay open. They weren’t getting the grants, they weren’t getting the loans that many other businesses were getting during the Trump administration. And that has changed as well.

Jaime Harrison, Democratic candidate for South Carolina senate, addresses supporters during a drive-in rally in Anderson, S.C., on Saturday, October 31, 2020. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

He added, “We have seen the Biden administration basically saying to federal agencies that we need to change purchasing power and we have to grow our contracting with small businesses, particularly Black businesses.”

Harrison also championed the Biden-Harris administration’s efforts to increase funding for Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).

But in order for Democrats to accomplish more in Washington, Harrison argued, the party needs more votes in the Senate, which means Democrats need their electorate base — Black voters — to show up to the polls in November.

“There’s still so much more to go. But in order to get there, we also have to recognize that we need more votes. We need more votes in the United States Senate in order to get around the filibuster, which Republicans have utilized so much the block a lot of the progress that the administration and the president wants to make,” said Harrison. “We cannot allow them to take control of the House in the Senate because our democracy will be threatened in the end.”

But it’s not just Republican obstructionism that has stood in the way of the Democratic Party’s legislative agenda. Members of their own party, Senators Manchin and Sinema, have also prompted the ire of fellow Democrats, advocates, and Black voters alike. When asked if the Democratic Party should support primary challenges to Manchin and Sinema or if they should be censured for not being in lockstep with the party, Harrison said that he sees them as crucial to the party’s success.

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) leaves the Senate Chamber with Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) following a vote in the Senate at the U.S. Capitol Building on Wednesday, Nov. 3, 2021 in Washington, DC. Senate Republicans blocked debate on the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. (Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

“Right now, Senator Sinema and Senator Manchin help us to get the majority…because if we did not have them, guess what? Mitch McConnell is the majority leader, and that means when the Supreme Court seat comes open, as we’re about to see the president’s nominee, we won’t be able to get that done,” said Harrison. 

“I’d much rather work with somebody who is voting with a 75, 85, 90% of the time, rather than to have a Republican who votes against us 100% of the time. I think we’ve got to be pragmatic in our approach…We got to focus on how do we pick up more Republican seats so that we can add that to the United States Senate roster. And I’ll give us the freedom in order to navigate around the filibuster and to get more things done for the American people.”

There are a number of races that should be closely watched, said Harrison, including the campaigns of U.S. Congresswoman Val Demings who is running for U.S. Senate in Florida and Cheri Beasley who is running for a Senate seat in North Carolina. If successful, both candidates would become the first Black women from their respective states to serve in the United States Senate.

There are also four Senate seats up for reelection that Democrats have to keep in order to maintain their 50-50 split in the Senate: Sen. Raphael Warnock in Georgia, Sen. Mark Kelly in Arizona, Catherine Cortez Mastro in Nevada and Sen. Maggie Hassan in  New Hampshire.

“We’re trying to help the candidates there. And most importantly, the state parties to really put the strongest campaigns possible on the ballot this November,” said Chairman Harrison. 

There is some positive news for Democrats heading into the 2022 elections, as according to a Pew Research Center report, Democrats are viewed more favorably than the Republican Party on most issues including the COVID-19, climate change, health care and education. 

Education, in particular, has become a wedge issue harnessed by Republicans through an anti-critical race theory crusade. While CRT is an academic concept typically taught in law school that explores how race as a social construct is embedded in American institutions, it hasn’t stopped Republicans from suggesting that it is somehow being taught to K-12 students across the country.

The Placentia Yorba Linda School Board discusses a proposed resolution to ban teaching critical race theory in schools. (Photo: Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

The anti-CRT movement gained so much momentum that it was seen as a winning strategy in the Virginia gubernatorial race in November 2021. On his first day in office, the state’s new governor, Glenn Youngkin, signed an executive order banning the concept and other “inherently divisive concepts.” Similar bills have been proposed or passed in states across the country that would restrict how race is taught in classrooms.

Chairman Harrison slammed the GOP as “the party of fear, fraud and fascism,” adding, “that’s what CRT is all about…trying to make some people fearful of the other in our society, people who don’t look like them, who may not have the same type of background.”

Harrison also slammed the idea that CRT is being taught in K-12 schools. 

“Many of us who are parents had to educate our kids for almost a year last year because of COVID during that time. Did you teach critical race theory to your kids? It’s the curriculum that we got from the schoolhouses, and we all had to implement them and do it as parents. Did you teach it? No, because it’s not being taught in our schools,” he said.

Ultimately, Harrison said he believes Democrats will prevail on the issues that matter most to Americans. But ultimately, he said, it’s important that all Americans exercise their right to vote this year, regardless of which party they support.

“You need to make sure that you are actually exercising your right to select that person who will fight for your values,” said Harrison. “Yes, I would love for you to vote for a Democrat, but ultimately I just want you to be able to go and vote. Make sure that you express yourself and exercise the most sacred right we have, as Americans.”

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