Scores of politicians, business executives, entrepreneurs and Washington insiders filed into the Congressional Auditorium of the Capitol Building for today’s swearing-in ceremony of the Congressional Black Caucus. Celebrating its 40th Anniversary during this legislative session, the so-called “Conscience of the Congress” has grown from 13 members four decades ago to 43 today. The event, represented a passing of the torch as Rep. Emanuel Cleaver II, a former Kansas City mayor who has served in the House since 2005, was installed as the CBC’s new chairman, replacing five-term Oakland, California legislator Rep. Barbara Lee.
This year’s ceremony was vastly different in tenor than the event two years ago when a new era was proclaimed with the historic election of President Barack Obama — one of the CBC’s own — and the Democratic Party gaining full control of the House and Senate. After the past two years of political wrangling that Cleaver says “turned the People’s House into a venomous venue,” the Democrats followed President Obama’s agenda and passed the 800 billion stimulus package to reboot a withering economy, a revolutionary health care package and comprehensive financial reform, to name a few key planks. Today, “the political tsunami that occurred on Nov. 2,” as Rep. Donald Payne (D-NJ) referred to the outcome of the congressional mid-term election, has ushered in a conservative Republican regime in power of the House with an agenda driven by an influx of ultra-conservative Tea Party members and a focus on recapturing the White House.
Cleaver inherits the CBC as the 112th Congress begins another tumultuous session. Before opening day, incoming House Speaker Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) and House leaders have already made it clear that they plan to dismantle Obama’s agenda. Republicans outlined a 20-day plan that includes a vote to repeal the hard-fought health-care law within the next week. Considered a symbolic act since Democrats still control the Senate and Obama would veto such a measure if it reached his desk, their next move would be to defund key provisions. The next battleground will targeting spending cuts and, possibly, use of the March 4 expiration of the temporary funding of the federal government as a lever in upcoming budget negotiations with the White House.
In addressing the gathering, he called the 43 CBC members also sworn in today “Wall Builders” fighting for opportunities for all Americans. In fact, one member, Florida Rep. Alan West is a Republican who owes his congressional victory to Tea Party support.
Upon gaining the CBC chairmanship, Cleaver said he was asked by some in the media whether the CBC, the only caucus not to lose a single member in the midterms, is “relevant in this “post racial” era?”. His response: “To that spectacular assertion, I must politely say, come again?The long and laborious march toward a society that cares not about the issues of race will eventually arrive at its destination. But today is not that day.” He then proceeded to rattle off the CBC’s legislative achievements during the past session, including creation of the Office of Minority and Women Inclusion in each federal financial services agencies; fighting for African American farmers to gain $1.15 billion in its settlement with the federal government; and obtaining funding for historically black colleges and universities.
In answering charges that the CBC had not fully committed to the Obama Administration over the past two years, Cleaver asserted,”Let it be clear. We are strong supporters and partners with this White House and although there have been times and there might be others where we disagree, unlike some – we want our President to succeed and we’ll do all in our power to ensure that he does.”
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