Congressional Black Caucus Frustrated with Obama
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A year ago, members of the Congressional Black Caucus openly wept at Barack Obama’s inauguration. Slowly, that euphoria has given way to frustration that his administration has not done more for black America. Questions about how to elect him have been replaced by questions about how to prod him.
For many, it is the surprise of a political lifetime that they find themselves wrestling with such quandaries. Alternately puzzled and disgruntled, CBC members say key people in the Obama administration have taken them for granted, in the belief that black members of Congress have no stomach for a fight with the country’s first black president.
“We concluded they were just kind of listening to us and that then they would go back [to their offices] and conclude that we would do nothing,” Emanuel Cleaver II (D-Mo.), the vice chairman of the CBC, said of one dispute. “Because they had concluded there’s a black president in the White House and that, to some degree, the Black Caucus, you know, was constrained in expressing its desires. After a while, we said, ‘Hey, we see what’s going on and it’s nothing.’ ”
On Thursday, CBC members participated in a rare one-hour policy meeting with Obama at the White House to discuss their concerns, most notably their disappointment over a jobs bill that they regard as largely a package of tax breaks for employers, noticeably bereft of job-training programs, new infrastructure projects and summer employment opportunities for youth. Such issues are vital to the CBC, many of whose members represent districts with high levels of unemployment.
In interviews with aides and members afterward, Obama was described as receptive to their message, even though he did not make any large-scale commitments. “He said he knew what unemployment looks like in ‘my own neighborhood in Chicago,’ ” recounted Cleaver, who stressed that he was speaking only for himself. “He said he wanted to do things as quickly as possible.”
“There was no contention at all,” said Rep. Gregory W. Meeks (D-N.Y.). “The president is very clearly focused on jobs and job creation.”
A White House official issued a statement that ignored any tensions with CBC members and stressed the administration’s goals: “President Obama is working to develop inclusive policies, whether in health care, education or the economy, that will have a broad impact on the American people, and Thursday’s meeting with the Congressional Black Caucus was a productive effort toward reaching that goal.”
Not withstanding Thursday’s kind words, the CBC’s list of complaints with the White House runs from policy to personal. Despite the caucus’s entreaties, the administration has not provided targeted help to black communities and other struggling areas suffering from disproportionately high unemployment, members complain. Many caucus members say they feel largely ignored by key White House advisers. Their communication with Obama himself is minimal to nonexistent.
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