Democratic Tri-Caucus to track diversity of witnesses in House hearings

Initiative would have committees send witnesses diversity surveys

Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, is one of the leaders of the Tri-Caucus, along with Congressional Black Caucus Chairwoman Rep. Karen Bass, D-Calif., and Congressional Asian Pacific Caucus Chairwoman Rep. Judy Chu, D-Calif. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Callfile photo)

The chairs of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, Congressional Black Caucus and Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus announced Thursday that starting in January 2020 they will track the diversity of witnesses testifying in House committee hearings. 

Collectively known as the Tri-Caucus, the groups want to ensure diversity of witnesses that help inform policies and legislation to ensure the laws Congress passes are “inclusive and work for Americans of all backgrounds.”

The Tri-Caucus leaders — CHC Chairman Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, CBC Chairwoman Karen Bass, D-Calif., and CAPAC Chairwoman Judy Chu, D-Calif., announced their witness diversity initiative in a letter to all committee and subcommittee chairs and ranking members. 

“With an increasingly diverse population, a truly representative government must reflect the country’s changing demographics to ensure fairness and legitimacy,” they wrote. “This is especially critical for the U.S. House of Representatives, a chamber that was specifically designed to reflect the most direct will of the American people.”

Diverse communities have “been marginalized or ignored” in the policymaking process for many years, they added, noting that “it is imperative that we work to embrace, promote, and advance diversity in our halls and committee panels.”

The initiative will track witness diversity through a survey that all committees can share with witnesses they invite to testify, not counting administration officials. The Tri-Caucus chairs said in the letter they’d be sending out a sample survey Thursday and welcomed committee leaders to provide feedback.

The language used in the letter seemed to suggest that it’s voluntary for committee leaders and witnesses to comply with the survey, so it’s unclear how complete the data set the Tri-Caucus will be able to collect. 

The chairs do not specify an end date for the initiative but references in the letter to the 116th Congress signal it is something they will track throughout 2020 until the session ends. 

The Tri-Caucus announcement included statements of support from Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md., Majority Whip James Clyburn, D-S.C., leaders of the Democratic Women’s Caucus  and Reps. Deb Haaland, D-N.M., and Sharice Davids, D-Kan., who are the first two Native American women to serve in Congress. 

This is not the first diversity initiative House Democrats have undertaken this Congress. They established a diversity office to help member and committee offices recruit, hire and retain staff of different backgrounds as part of their rules package passed upon taking back the majority this year.

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