Addressing poverty and reforming the criminal justice system were among the topics that came up at a White House meeting Tuesday between President Obama and members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC). Rep. Mia Love (R, Utah), the first black female Republican elected to Congress, was among those who attended the meeting.
The discussion lasted 90 minutes, said CBC chairman Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D, N.C.) in a press conference after the meeting, carried by C-Span. Butterfield characterized the discussion as a positive one.
Among the topics that came up in the meeting with President Obama:
Poverty: The caucus asked the president to use executive action in concert with their legislative attempts to target federal funds to nearly 500 U.S. counties with persistent poverty rates (meaning they have a 20% or more poverty rate that has persisted for 30 years or more). “He told us that he fully understands the challenges that we face and he’s willing to work with us and find creative ways to address poverty in these communities. We were very pleased with his response,” reported Butterfield.
Criminal justice reform: “We had a very robust conversation about criminal justice reform — not only about police misconduct and prosecutorial misconduct, but the need to reform the whole criminal justice system and to try to find creative ways of reducing the incarceration rate,” said Butterfield. Emphasizing that “body cameras are not going to get the job done,” he continued that we need “ways of getting better officers on the street…with community policing and sensitivity training.” He said the president “gets it” and pledged that if confirmed as U.S. attorney general, Loretta Lynch will work with the lawmakers toward these goals.
Voting rights: Butterfield mentioned the president’s upcoming visit to Selma, Ala. on March 7 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and also reminded listeners that the Supreme Court weakened its protections in a 2013 decision. He said the gutted law came up in the meeting with President Obama and cited the Voting Rights Act Amendment of 2014 that is co-sponsored by several CBC members. Butterfield called for an “up or down” vote by Congress on the bill.
The state of HBCUs, federal student loans and the economic recovery were among the other topics that came up with the president, said Butterfield. He said they impressed upon President Obama that while the recovery is “indisputable,” that “Black America continues to be in a state of emergency.”
With the GOP firmly in control of Congress, it remains to be seen how much of the Black lawmakers’ agenda will end up in the final federal budget for 2016. Clearly, in asking for executive action on poverty, CBC members recognize this.
Hopefully, the president will continue to be emboldened by the fact that his time in office is winding down, and take bigger steps to relieve the “state of emergency” for Black Americans.