Black Caucus to Press Obama on Priorities

Ben Evans, AP, February 26, 2009

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It hasn’t slipped some [Congressional Black] caucus members’ attention, for example, that Obama first hosted congressional Republicans and the conservative Blue Dog Democrats in his push toward the political middle. They say it’s their job to ensure he remains true to certain priorities, such as fixing inner-city poverty, that he once faced as a community organizer in Chicago.

“He knows these issues, but I think it’s very important that no group is taken for granted,” said Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Fla. “It doesn’t matter who is president . . . if you’re not in the room, your interests will be left on the table.”

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Yet Obama maintained a distant relationship with the caucus when he was its only Senate member from 2004-08. That dynamic was on display early in the Democratic presidential primary, when many senior caucus members initially backed Hillary Rodham Clinton even as Obama quickly became viable as a candidate.

Those lawmakers eventually endorsed Obama, some realizing it could cost them politically if they didn’t.

Lee [Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif, caucus chairwoman] and others declined to discuss specific policy items that may come up at the meeting, which the caucus routinely holds with the president at the start of a new Congress. The list is likely to include concerns about the continued wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, diversity in administration jobs, the 2010 census and more help for homeowners facing foreclosure.

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Members were quick to question the wisdom of Obama’s failed appointment of Republican Sen. Judd Gregg as commerce secretary. {snip} Those concerns in part led Obama to announce that the White House would be more involved in directing the Census.

The Congressional Black Caucus also lent critical support to former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s appointment of Roland Burris, who is black, to fill Obama’s vacant Senate seat, even as the new administration and other leading Democrats resisted the move. In part, caucus members argued it was important to have at least one black senator.

Earlier this week, when the president convened a summit on reducing spending, Lee warned the White House about balancing the budget “on the backs of the most vulnerable Americans.”

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