White House Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett met with members of the Congressional Black Caucus this afternoon in the U.S. Capitol. The meeting started at 11:30 and ended an hour later. It was interrupted by several votes on the House floor. Members came in and out of the Henry Hyde Room in the U.S. Capitol to discuss several issues of concern during the hour long gathering.
[pullquote]As votes ended on the House floor, about 30 members of the 43 member Black Caucus exited and entered to talk to the White House senior advisor on a myriad of priorities.[/pullquote] Whether there will be a meeting soon between CBC members and President Obama on Black Caucus priorities is unknown. The CBC and the President have not met since May 2011 — over 600 days ago.
The President met with members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus at the White House on January 25 on immigration. President Obama told the Hispanic Caucus members that the immigration issue was, “his number one legislative priority.”
Against the backdrop of the Presindent’s focus on immigration and gun control, members spoke on several issues of concern to them including the long term unemployed and Medicare.
After the meeting with Jarrett, new Congressional Black Caucus Chair Marcia Fudge (D-OH) defined the gathering as an opportunity to find areas of consensus between the Caucus and the White House as she begins her two years as the 23rd CBC Chair. Fudge was upbeat about the hour long meeting with Jarrett as she boarded a bus to the annual retreat of Democratic members of Congress. At the same time, Democrats in the House serving in the minority understand the difficulty of getting anything done with Republicans in the majority.
In the meantime, the situation for the constituents Black Caucus members represent is difficult. The question of whether the first Black President of the United States and the CBC can move the needle on those issues the federal government can effect remains outstanding.
Black unemployment hit its highest point in 28 years in September 2011 and is now at 14%. The wealth gap between Black Americans and other groups has widened considerably since the subprime mortage crisis. The percentage of Americans living in poverty – 16% of the U.S. population — along with the number of Americans living in poverty — 49 million — are at the highest levels in at least 30 years. The Black male dropout rate remains at a stunning 52% — easily the highest of any other group. The incarceration rate in the U.S. remains the highest in the world with 2.3 million behind bars.
To make matters worse, since taking control of the House, Republican strategy has been to obstruct the Democratic agenda with the goal of making sure the President has nothing to claim political victory on. Republican obstructionist strategy was particularly vibrant during the 2012 election cycle. As a result of the obstruction-without-compromise way of doing business, the 112th Congress was rated one of the worst and least productive in American history as they enacted the fewest laws and considered the fewest number of bills.
As part of an obvious run-out-the-clock-and-don’t-compromise strategy against President Obama and House Democrats, House Republicans led by Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) have scheduled less than 130 days in session in 2013 and are barely in session more than three days a week with few votes. To make matters worse, the Democratic controlled Senate led by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) is slow to move on the few pieces of legislation that pass the House.
The Washington Times noted that, “In 2011 and 2012, Congress produced just 10 conference reports, the Senate met for little more than 2,000 hours and the House for 1,700, and the two chambers combined to enact fewer than 230 laws.”
Whether a closer and better working relationship between members of Congress and the White House can be forged is unknown. Most Congress watchers view it as unlikely though the President is meeting with House members tomorrow in Leesburg, Va. at their annual retreat and spoke to Democratic Senators in Annapolis at their retreat today. In past visits to retreats, the President has delivered remarks, taken photos with members, and departed.
Jarrett’s meeting with the Congressional Black Caucus today is the first major meeting with a senior Administration official this year and mirrors other with the CBC and former White House Chief of Staff William Daley during 2011.
Additionally, a group of Black leaders has been meeting and plan to present ideas on a “black agenda” to President Obama. They include NAACP Pres. Ben Jealous, Urban League President Marc Morial and National Action Network Pres. Rev. Al Sharpton.
Reps. Alcee Hastings (D-FL), John Conyers (D-MI) and Maxine Waters did not attend today’s meeting with Jarrett. Senior CBC members Jim Clyburn, Charlie Rangel, Eleanor Holmes Norton and John Lewis were in attendance.