Vice President-elect Mike Pence, the Indiana Governor swept into the Oval Office alongside Donald J. Trump, hit Capitol Hill earlier this week for a series of meetings with House and Senate leadership.
Pence, a former Republican Congressman, also took time to speak and meet with the entire House Republican Conference – a move seen by many as a peacemaking gesture after Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) tangled repeatedly during this year’s campaign.
Yet it was a photo that came out of that meeting, not the substance of their conversations, that made headlines.
Pence took a selfie from the front of the Capitol meeting room where House Republicans meet intending to show the breadth of the House Republican Conference. The problem? The picture – while somewhat blurry in the background – appeared to include no people of color and very few women.
Immediately viral on social media, the photo led to a stream of posts and stories blasting Republicans for failing to look like America and embrace the diversity that has been a hallmark of the United States in the 21st century.
Diversity has been a persistent problem for the Republican Party. While a majority of House Democrats are either women or minorities, House Republicans are primarily a conference of older White men.
The perceived lack of racial diversity has had serious repercussions for Republicans at the ballot box. Exit polls from this year’s presidential election showed that less than 10 percent of African Americans and less than 30 percent of Latinos cast ballots for Trump.
While Trump’s heated rhetoric that laced at Latino communities and his history of discrimination towards Blacks may have played a role, those percentages were not substantially worse than the dismal numbers received by past Republican nominees Mitt Romney and John McCain.
House and Senate Republican leadership has made repeated efforts to showcase diversity in their groupings, touting “rising stars” like Senator Tim Scott (R-S.C.) and Representative Mia Love (R-Utah), both African-Americans, and Representative Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.), who is Hispanic.
Some civil rights leaders, however, have complained that these efforts amount to window dressing and that Republicans remain an insular party that has little space for minorities to rise. The selfie incident with Pence only reinforces those perceptions.
It also immediately brought back memories of another House Republican “Selfie-gate”: Over the summer, Ryan posted a selfie with House Republican interns that was very similar to Pence’s, including virtually no people of color. The outcry on social media was swift and immediate.
In response, the staff of Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas) organized House Democratic interns for a photo that showcased the group’s diversity, including White, Black and Hispanic men and women, as well as a Muslim staffer in a headscarf and people with disabilities.
Perhaps getting stung by a selfie scandal for the second time in just six months will be enough to prevent House Republicans from making this mistake again. But the lack of diversity will remain a problem, whether cameras are on or off.