Black caucus takes challenges to White House

theGRIO REPORT - Rep. Cleaver told TheGrio, "no president is always right. We have taken every president to task since Nixon in 1971, we can't stop now."...

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On May 12th the entire 43 member Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) met with President Obama for the first time during the 112th Congressional session. The state dining room at the White House served as the backdrop for a meeting that CBC leadership wanted — to focus on job creation, redistricting, and the allocation of federal resources to communities that need them most.

The meeting was closed to the press, but theGrio was able to sit down one-on-one with the chairman of the CBC, Congressman Emanuel Cleaver to talk about the outcome. When first asked how the meeting went, the Chairman responded, “candid and productive.”

The early part of the meeting provided the CBC with the chance to directly commend the president on the successful military action that lead to the death of Osama bin Laden, and the swift action taken by the administration to ensure that citizens in areas hit by recent national disasters received the help and assistance they needed.

However, the undeniable issue focus of the meeting was jobs. Rep. Cleaver stated, “We can only win the future if we can create good, well-paying jobs for our communities. Everything discussed here today is directly related to creating jobs—our focus is on improving the economic conditions of our communities, as well as lowering the high unemployment rates.”

It is no secret that the unemployment rate for African-Americans has been stagnant or rising for the past several months. While African-Americans are at 16.1 percent — up .6 percent, the U.S. has seen improvements in national unemployment numbers. Though this reality remains overwhelmingly harsh for blacks specifically, based on the chairman’s recount of the meeting, the president’s resolve remains on improving the economic condition of the country, which in his mind will improve the condition of African-Americans in the process.

While the Caucus thinks more direct action that focuses on African-American unemployment is the answer, Cleaver was clear that they would be working with the Administration in the midst of challenging legislative environment. “It doesn’t make sense for us to play politics and propose countless pieces of legislation that we know will never see committee,” stated Cleaver. He believes there are options that will make real change in the country that can only come by Executive prerogative and encouraged the president to “use creativity of the highest level to affect these changes.” When asked for a way that the president could be “creative,” Cleaver mentioned the Caucus’ recommendation to the president to direct existing dollars that are a part of Administration Secretary’s discretionary funds into America’s most vulnerable areas. The Chairman made it clear that the Caucus was targeting 87 districts, more than half of which are not CBC represented, or minority dominated districts. The CBC further recommended looking to the legality and effectiveness of using the declaration for federal assistance relief dollars in Alabama and Mississippi for potential job creation. This was a recommendation that the President said he would take under advisement.

The Caucus also addressed the issue of redistricting with the president. Cleaver told theGrio that the Congressional Black Caucus Institute is already prepared to make lawyers and experts available to its members and districts to ensure that the voting rights act is respected and that other states are not subject to “packing” or the gerrymandering of decades past that remove or weaken predominately black districts.

The president has stated publicly that Attorney General Eric Holder and the Justice Department is concerned and will be working to ensure that states are operating lawfully during the submission and approval of state redistricting plans.

While the Chairman spoke of jobs, redistricting, and federal assistance to vulnerable areas, today’s meeting had a forth, and arguably more important issue: the relationship between the Congressional Black Caucus and the president, which can without a doubt affect the engagement of the African-American community during the 2012 election cycle.

Cleaver stated, “We turned a page during this meeting. There was a candor that I have not seen with this president from our members.” The chairman went on to address a challenge that many CBC members faced, being critical of President Obama. “Back home, people want you to support the president at all cost,” Cleaver told TheGrio, “but no President is always right. We have taken every president to task since Nixon in 1971, we can’t stop now.”

Clever he said that he hoped the black community could turn the same page, but he wanted one thing to be clear, “The CBC being critical of the president would not minimize our commitment to work with him and we are irreversibly connected to his re-election.”

Cleaver believes that this level of communication will continue, and define the future working relationship between the president and the Congressional Black Caucus.