President Barack Obama reassured members of the Congressional Black Caucus that he’s on their side and will do what he can to support the group’s left-leaning agenda, lawmakers said Thursday after an hour-long session at the White House.
Nearly all the group’s 42 members attended. Noticeably absent was Illinois Sen. Roland Burris, Obama’s replacement who is fending off calls to resign.
The lawmakers – all Democrats – said the reception was a welcome change from the tenure of former President George W. Bush, who held several cordial meetings with black lawmakers but rarely agreed with them on substance.
“There is no comparison,” said Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland. “(Obama) basically assured us that having been a member of the Congressional Black Caucus … that he gets the issues and will do everything he can to work with us.”
Lawmakers said they presented Obama with a wish-list covering a broad range of topics, many of them economic issues affecting their districts.
They pressed Obama to focus on hiring more minorities to federal jobs and helping small and minority-owned businesses get government contracts. They also discussed creating a health-care safety net and addressing medical disparities among minorities.
Lawmakers expressed continued concerns about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and proposed forming a national task force for improving education in low-income communities.
Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas said the caucus made its priorities clear but is “not unrealistic about what a president can do.”
Cummings said some of the proposals don’t involve additional money. For example, he said Obama talked about using the bully pulpit to encourage minorities to get more health screenings.
Although Obama was a member of the caucus during his Senate tenure from 2004-2008, he has never had a particularly close relationship with the group. Accommodating its full agenda could cause problems for the president’s effort to build a moderate political coalition.
But caucus members said it’s their job to make sure he remains focused on the hardships facing their districts, many of which are poor urban areas with high unemployment.
“Everybody’s pulling together,” said Rep. David Scott of Georgia. “We’ve got a huge problem, a momentous crisis here with this economy … we’re all on the same page.”
Burris’ spokesman said the senator did not attend the White House meeting because he needed to vote on a bill giving the District of Columbia a vote in the House.