Black Caucus Says No Special Relationship to Obama

November 20, 2008

black-caucus.jpgThe Congressional Black Caucus announced its new leaders Wednesday without mentioning President-elect Barack Obama until asked. Members disputed the notion that his historic presidency would affect their profile or their role.

“Certainly President-elect Obama is a member of the Congressional
Black Caucus, but I think it’s important to recognize that he’s the
president of the country, he’s the president of the United States of America,” said the group’s incoming chairwoman, Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif.

“We’ve never anticipated any special regard or special relationship from President-elect Obama,” Lee added. “We all are members of Congress. We have many caucuses in this Congress. All of our caucuses have a specific agenda.”

Lee succeeded Rep. Carolyn C. Kilpatrick, D-Mich.

Asked whether they planned to meet with Obama, caucus members said they would, although nothing was scheduled.

“We seek to meet with every president,” added Rep. Danny Davis, D-Ill. “Each time there’s a new president we always seek to establish an early on meeting.”

The caucus’ agenda includes access to health care,
reducing poverty and improving low-income housing — issues likely to
get more attention under a Democratic Obama administration than they
did under Republican President George W. Bush.

the group has never had a particularly close relationship with Obama,
who for four years representing Illinois was the only senator in the
caucus. He rarely participated in the caucus’ routine activities, to
the disappointment of some black lawmakers who wished he were more

Obama also conspicuously
avoided endorsing Kilpatrick in a tough primary battle this year while
her son, Kwame, was embroiled in a racially charged scandal over his
conduct as mayor of Detroit.

Many caucus members endorsed Obama’s rival for the Democratic presidential nomination, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, before his candidacy gained momentum. Some, including Rep. John Lewis,
D-Ga., switched their support to Obama under pressure from
constituents. Obama ended up winning 95 percent of the black vote — a
higher percentage than caucus members can always claim.

The caucus claims 43 members, including Obama, despite his resignation from the Senate this week.

taking questions from reporters, Kilpatrick and Lee opened their news
conference with brief remarks about the legacy of the caucus and the
desire to build upon the work of its past leadership.

Lee paid tribute to the woman she called her mentor, Shirley Chisholm, the first black woman elected to Congress. Chisholm also sought the Democratic presidential nomination in 1972.

have an opportunity to really continue to lead and also continue to be
the conscience of the Congress,” Lee said. “It’s an honor to be in this
position at this time.”

Neither one mentioned Obama until a reporter asked about him.

Jelani Cobb, a history professor at historically black Spelman College
in Atlanta who is writing a book about Obama, said there was scant
evidence at the caucus’ annual legislative conference in Washington
last month that Obama even was running for president.

contended that the caucus has “tried to minimize the extent to which
Obama’s emergence has changed the nature of their position.”

good bit of the old politics, the old positioning, was as brokerage.
They have people who can be the brokers, the middle person, between the
Democratic Party
— largely the white Democratic Party and the black voting base,” Cobb
said. “Obama is the first president who doesn’t need them for that.”

Obama also emerged on the political scene somewhat unknown to
longtime black activists, instead of coming up through the ranks like
more established black leaders.

Nonetheless, both sides need each other — Obama to get his agenda through the House, and black House members to get him to enact theirs.

Senior black caucus members retain some powerful positions in the next Congress, including Rep. Charlie Rangel, D-N.Y., as chairman of the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee, and Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., as Judiciary Committee chairman.

Source: AP

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