Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., defended his family’s membership in a private Rhode Island beach club that’s allegedly all-white on Monday, telling reporters “the club has informed me that it does in fact have diversity of membership.”
Bailey’s Beach Club has “a long tradition of being a family club, and they’re working on improving diversity. I think that’s pretty fair,” Whitehouse said, elaborating on comments he made to a Providence website where he appeared to shrug off the club’s history.
Asked Friday about his family’s continued membership at the “all-white” Newport club, Whitehouse, a progressive Democrat who has spoken out repeatedly against “systemic racism” in the country, told GoLocal Providence “I think the people who are running the place are still working on that and I’m sorry it hasn’t happened yet.”
Asked if such “elite all-white wealthy clubs” should still exist, Whitehouse said, “It’s a long tradition in Rhode Island and there are many of them. I think we just need to work our way through the issues, thank you.”
On Monday, he said GoLocal “got the facts wrong” about the club’s membership and he’d meant to say that there’s “a long tradition of it being a family club.”
Asked if he knew any members who were “diverse,” Whitehouse said, “I believed that there were. I don’t spend a lot of time there, so I couldn’t tell you who the members are.”
A spokesman for Whitehouse, Richard Davidson, told NBC News earlier Monday that the club has no “restrictive policy.”
“The club has had and has members of color,” Davidson said, adding that the senator “has dedicated his entire career to promoting equity and protecting civil rights, as his record shows.”
The 124-year-old club, formally known as the Spouting Rock Beach Association, did not respond to a request for comment.
According to GoLocal, Whitehouse promised to quit his membership in the club when he was running for Senate in 2006, but transferred his shares to his wife. The site first confronted him about his refusal to step down in 2017.
“I think it would be nice if the membership changed a little bit,” he told GoLocal then. Asked if he would pressure the club to do so, he said, “I will take that up privately.”
Asked Monday when he “consolidated” his membership with his family’s, he said he couldn’t remember.
Bailey’s Beach Club, which has been described as one of the most exclusive in the country, has roughly 500 members, according to a 2003 article in the New York Times.
The paper asked one member about the club’s diversity at the time.
”Jewish, yes,” the member said, but ”Blacks, not really.” The article noted that one of the members had grown grandchildren who were biracial and would sometimes visit.