The Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) held its first meeting at the White House with President Barack Obama on Thursday. Most of the group’s 42 members were in attendance, with the noticeable exception of Sen. Roland Burris, of llinois, who reportedly had to stay behind at the Capitol to vote on a bill giving the District of Columbia a vote in the House.
“We had a very important discussion with regard to many issues that our communities are faced with and the entire country,” said caucus chair Rep. Barbara Lee of California. “It was a very open meeting and it was a historic moment for the CBC.”
CBC members have formed task groups on a variety of issues including healthcare, education, and economic recovery. During the meeting with the president, lawmakers took turns sharing their insights and concerns with the president, who they say was very receptive.
When asked why it had taken so long for the group to meet with Obama, who early in his administration hosted congressional Republicans and Blue Dog Democrats, Lee said that he’s been in office only five weeks and that his meeting with the CBC was “very timely.”
She added that the meeting was just a first step. “As the conscience of the Congress, we’ll continue to be advocates for those who’ve been disenfranchised, left out, and desperately need this administration to do what it’s doing, and that is to ensure there is justice within our federal government,” said Lee.
While it might seem like a long time before the CBC and Obama met, CBC members have been working with the president on many issues and much of their work has become law.
“We worked very closely on the economic recovery package and there are many issues we are concerned about as it relates to job creation,” Lee said. “We’ve got to make sure that our constituents have the work-force training and skills required to qualify for these jobs. We talked about, and have been talking about through our economic recovery task force, how we can make sure that resources are directed to the communities that are hardest hit.”
With Democrats in the majority and four black chairs of major committees, as well as 16 black subcommittee chairs, the CBC is the strongest it’s ever been, and they are not hesitating to wield their power.
According to House Majority Whip Rep. James Clyburn, of South Carolina, the CBC fought hard for several provisions in the economic recovery package that would benefit its constituents. When the Senate, for example, redistributed funding that would provide broadband to rural communities and stipulated that higher education funding would go to community colleges, which would prevent Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) from benefitting, black lawmakers made sure their original provisions were reinstated.
These are not issues that would have caused Obama to veto the stimulus package, which is why it is critical that the caucus meet regularly with him so