Summer jobs money alone isn’t going to do it. If the White House wants to mount a serious campaign to turn Black Caucus NOs into YESes on trade, it won’t happen easy. An informal poll of over 20 Black Caucus members found more hard NOs and a load of indignation at the notion that votes could be switched over one summer of temporary jobs. Several members also mentioned past trade deals that have hurt American workers.
The moment is noteworthy in the often strained relationship between the first Black President of the United States and the African American members who have served in Congress during his time in office. Differences in policy regarding HBCUs, poverty, diversity VISAs, and jobs, as well as the level of attention the White House has given to those issues has frequently been problematic.
On an important vote members are unlikely to take a political risk for a President on his way out the door who has been reluctant to spend political capital on their issues and policy requests over six years.
“Take off your bedroom slippers, put on your marching shoes. Shake it off. Stop complaining, stop grumbling, stop crying,” the President told Black Caucus members and their guests at the Congressional Black Caucus Gala in September 2011 as the Black unemployment rate was 16.7% — a 28 year high. Since that moment, the relationship has improved. But it has not been forgotten.
“I just saw one of the White House liaisons and he asked ‘is there any movement’ and I said I’m glad you asked. He said they were thinking seriously about adding summer jobs. I know it’s the first time they are reaching out but some of the things they’re offering are just insulting,” said Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-NY) yesterday on the White House offers.
At yesterday’s (May 20) weekly meeting of the Black Caucus, Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-SC), a frequent carrier of the White House’s water who voted against NAFTA, presented the President’s first offers. He also pointed to Rangel as someone who may be able to win Black Caucus votes on trade. Rangel didn’t reveal how he would vote on fast track or the trade bill but he did say he thought the trade deal would eventually pass.
“That’s bullsh*t,” one member responded when asked if summer jobs money, or a deal on the cadillac tax was enough to win their vote. That response was not atypical. Several members expressed skepticism that the White House could find the money to even pull off such gifts. The fact that the President agreed to end earmarks in 2011 also came up as another issue that has added grit to the legislative gears. Members do expect that the White House will add something to the mix that would be helpful to big labor.
Several Black Caucus members were turned off by the idea that suddenly — because of the trade deal — the White House found a way to pay for summer jobs after six years of being told there was no money and it wasn’t possible. Though rep. Corrine Brown (D-FL), a hard NO vote on the trade bill, said “around here, where there is a will there’s a way.”
In 2010, 2011 and 2012, members of the Black Caucus including Reps. Barbara Lee, Emanuel Cleaver (D-MO), Bobby Rush (D-IL) and John Lewis (D-GA), practically begged the Obama Administration for money for summer jobs. In the summers of 2010 and 2011, there was a spike in violence during the Summer in Chicago that many members attributed to a lack of jobs.
The Obama Administration instead responded with a “private public” partnership idea involving the Urban League before the summer of 2011. But there was no multi-million dollar summer jobs initiative the type of which members were asking the White House for year after year.
Out of 43 voting members in the House, Reps. Greg Meeks (D-NY) and Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) are so far the only members of the Black Caucus who say they will support the President’s trade deal. Reps. Terri Sewell (D-AL) and Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) say they haven’t decided. Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-LA) who has taken a few unexpected votes, said he was “leaning NO,” yesterday.
Rep. Chaka Fattah (D-PA) who is perhaps the most consistent supporter of President Obama’s agenda, is a hard NO. Progressive Caucus leaders Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) and Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD) along with Reps. Bennie Thompson (D-MS), Elijah Cummings (D-MD), Hank Johnson (D-GA), Emanuel Cleaver (D-MO) and Lacy Clay (D-MO) are hard NOs on the trade deal.
Rep. David Scott (D-GA), a blue dog, who can sometimes vote pro-corporation, is also a hard NO. CBC Chair G.K. Butterfield (D-NC), who along with Rep. Sanford Bishop (D-GA) and Rep. David Scott are perhaps the most “conservative” members of the Black Caucus Democrats, have either said they are leaning NO or voting NO.