Conservative concern over critical race theory has made Republican lawmakers grilling Biden administration officials about critical race theory a regular feature of Capitol Hill.
The Republicans are not always successful in getting concessions or answers from the officials, but they show no signs of slowing down.
A viral speech from Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley during a congressional hearing last month in which Milley defended the validity of wanting to “understand white rage” helped catapult Republican concerns about “woke” ideology.
Less noticed in that hearing was an apparent agreement from Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin that certain principles should not be amplified in the military.
Florida Rep. Michael Waltz had brought up a lecture from Carol Anderson, author of a book called White Rage, to over 100 cadets at West Point.
“Can you agree, at least, that ‘Understanding whiteness and white rage,’” Waltz asked, “is probably something that we shouldn’t be teaching our future leaders of the United States Army?”
“As you have described it, it certainly sounds like that’s something that should not occur,” Austin said. “Again, I would like to know the specifics.”
Republicans aren’t always so successful in getting concessions when digging in on critical race theory, which started as an academic framework for examining racism and has become a descriptor for teachings and policies that frame individuals and society through the lens of race and oppressors.
Indiana Rep. Jim Banks got in a heated exchange with Adm. Michael Gilday, chief of naval operations, over his “professional reading program” reading list that included Ibram X. Kendi’s How to Be an Antiracist. He noted some of Kendi’s most radical statements, such as suggesting that Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett is a “white colonizer” because she adopted children from Haiti, and that in college, he wrote that white people used the AIDS virus to fend off racial extinction.
Gilday maintained that it is important to consider a variety of views. He also refused to answer a question from Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton about whether capitalism is racist, as Kendi has argued.
A recent Education and Labor Committee hearing with Education Secretary Miguel Cardona featured at least six Republicans asking him about critical race theory-related issues. Many of them focused on the New York Times’s 1619 Project, criticized by conservatives for asserting that slavery was a main driver of the American Revolution, being included as an example in its priorities for American history and civics education.
Cardona generally dodged the questions, saying that the federal government has no role in mandating curricula.
But the hearing showed how the aggressive lines of questioning sometimes result in unexpected moments that play to Republicans’ advantage: A Democratic congressman yelled “racist” while Republican Rep. Bob Good of Virginia questioned Cardona about critical race theory.
Those messaging victories were outlined in a recent Republican Study Committee memo from Banks, the group’s chairman.
“Here’s the good news: We are winning,” the memo said. “Lean into the culture war. Because the backlash against Critical Race Theory is real.”
It cited a Heritage Action poll of likely general election voters in 16 competitive congressional districts, which found that 79% of those voters agreed with the statement: “Children should never be taught that their destiny and inherent value depends on their skin color. Instead, American schools should be teaching American children about the American dream that is available to them.”
Another 61% disagreed with the statement that the U.S. is an “inherently racist country because it was founded on slavery and white supremacy, which made people wealthier to this day.”
Dozens of Republicans are legislatively invested in critical race theory opposition, another signal of their commitment to the issue.
The Stop CRT Act from Rep. Dan Bishop of North Carolina would codify an anti-critical race theory 2020 executive order from then-President Donald Trump that banned federal government agencies, grantees, and contractors from using workplace training that includes certain teachings about race and sexism. Another bill from Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, the END CRT Act, would have a similar effect. The Combating Racist Training in the Military Act and the Combating Racist Training in Schools Act target similar restrictions in only the military or education systems.
That forecasts more friction between Republicans and Biden administration officials on critical race theory in the future.