In his first meeting with the entire 43-member Congressional Black Caucus since May 2011, President Obama used the July 9 White House gathering to try to mend fences with black leaders, many of whom criticized Obama for not doing enough to help African-Americans during hard economic times or deal with lingering racial discrimination and prejudice in the nation.
"The lines of communication have not only been open but we will have broader and deeper discussions as a result of today," CBC Chairwoman Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio) told CNN.
In the past, President Obama resisted an agenda that specifically targeted the black community, saying his overall agenda was to benefit everyone and all races. The president came under fire recently from CBC Chairwoman Fudge, who blasted the White House in a March 2013 letter saying Obama’s Cabinet appointments “have hardly been reflective of this country’s diversity.”
Since then, the president nominated former Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx as transportation secretary, and former CBC chair Rep. Mel Watt (D-N.C.) as the director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency.
Now the issues have changed, specifically when it comes to the economy, black unemployment, and how immigration reform affects immigrants from the Caribbean and Africa.
During the meeting, CBC Members also discussed “the urgency of addressing high student loan interest rates and changes to the Parent PLUS loan program that adversely impacted students and Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs),” and “ways to increase opportunities for minority small business owners in both urban and rural communities,” according to a statement released after the meeting.
The continued high levels of unemployment in the African American community - which rose to 13.7 percent in June from 13.5 percent, according to the U.S. Labor Department - was also pressed by the Black Caucus who suggested a formula to target federal funds to specific communities to ease the problem. That formula for rural economic development calls for targeting funds into those areas where 20 percent of the people spent the past 30 years stuck below the poverty level.
But it was the recent Supreme Court ruling – where key parts of the Voting Rights Act were invalidated in requiring states with a history of voter discrimination to get approval from the federal government before making changes in their voter laws – that topped the agenda at the White House meeting. CBC members pressed the President to determine a federal solution to the voting rights issue as opposed to state-by-state rules. Fudge told reporters the caucus will also work with the Justice Department on the issue.
According to the CBC statement, “the President reaffirmed his administration’s commitment to fighting discriminatory practices in voting requirements across the country and to working with the CBC on legislation that protects every American’s right to vote.”
CBC members said a follow-up White House meeting has not been planned.