Hillary Clinton broke out in a vicious coughing fit about two-thirds of the way through a speech she gave in Harlem on Tuesday.
As she struggled to get it under control, first with water and then eventually a cough drop, Clinton riffed, “Too much to say,” as the crowded auditorium at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture cheered her on.
Clinton, speaking to an incredibly supportive audience in her home state, suggested that Republican opposition to President Obama’s plan to appoint a Supreme Court justice to take the late Antonin Scalia’s seat is predicated on the inherent racism that has made Obama the enemy for the past seven years of his administration.
“Justice Scalia’s passing means the court hangs in the balance,” Clinton said. “Now the Republicans say they’ll reject anyone President Obama nominates, no matter how qualified. Some are even saying he doesn’t have the right to nominate anyone! As if somehow he’s not the real president.
“That’s in keeping with what we’ve heard all along, isn’t it? Many Republicans talk in coded, racial language about takers and losers. They demonize President Obama and encourage the ugliest impulses of the paranoid fringe. This kind of hatred and bigotry has no place in our politics or our country.”
Republicans in the Senate, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, have said they do not want Obama to appoint a new justice in the last year of his term and would rather wait for the next president to do so.
"The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court justice. Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new President," McConell said on Saturday, the day Scalia died.
Republican resistance, of course, stems from the fear that Obama will appoint a liberal justice to replace the conservative stalwart that was Scalia. As for whether that fear is also predicated on racial bias remains to be seen.
When asked by The Daily Beast about Clinton’s comment, Attorney General Eric Holder, who was in attendance at her Harlem speech, hesitated to blame Republican opposition on bigotry alone.
“Well, I think there’s a concern that President Obama will select somebody who...shares his worldview,” said Holder, who laughed at the suggestion that he could be picked for the court. “A progressive who is going to vote in certain ways. He is the elected president of the United States, and there’s a constitutional responsibility to appoint justices to the Supreme Court as vacancies occur. I see no compelling argument that is made to the contrary.”
As for Bernie Sanders’s record on legislation benefiting the African-American community, Holder called the senator’s vote against the 1994 Brady Bill an “appalling lack of judgment” and said Clinton clearly has a better record on issues that matter to black voters.
Clinton had quite a bit to say Tuesday about her primary opponent and the Johnny-come-lately persona Clinton’s African-American surrogates have cultivated for him.
“You know, you can’t just show up at election time and say the right things and think that’s enough,” she said. “We can’t start building relationships a few weeks before a vote.”
That line directly echoed what South Carolina House Minority Leader Todd Rutherford had to say about Sanders last week, suggesting he had only come around to issues relevant to the African-American populace in the last “40 days,” while Clinton had been focused on them for the last “40 years.”
Clinton’s speech, which addressed a multitude of specific issues, including the sentencing discrepancies between those in possession of cocaine and crack, and a plan to invest $2 billion in school districts to reform discipline practices, comes at a crucial time in her campaign. After barely eking out a win in Iowa and losing badly in the New Hampshire primary, the former secretary of state is hoping to rebound with a strong showing in Nevada and South Carolina, the latter of which she is expected to win big.
But as the speech, with all its references to Flint and jabs at Sanders, indicates, Clinton is going to have to rely on African-American voters to capitalize on the next contests. She currently holds a 65-28 lead among black voters in South Carolina, according to a poll released by CNN on Tuesday.
Prior to Tuesday’s speech, Clinton met with Rev. Al Sharpton and members of the National Urban League. Still, by day’s end, she had not earned the endorsement of Sharpton, who met with Sanders before Clinton.
“I have not decided who I will support for president, but I’m committed to making sure that our agenda remains front and center,” Sharpton told reporters on Tuesday.
It’s unclear whether his support would boost Clinton, who has more immediate name recognition in the African-American community than Sanders does. But as the support of black voters becomes crucial to both Democratic candidates, Clinton seems to be more confident, repeating a new line added to her stump speech about not being a “single issue candidate.”
“We have to begin by facing up to the reality of systemic racism, because these are not only problems of economic inequality,” Clinton said, referring to Sanders’s most repeated line.
“These are problems of racial inequality.”