Some in Black Caucus Embrace GOP Member, But Others Say They’re ‘Leery’

Molly K. Hooper, The Hill, February 13, 2011

A conservative lawmaker has made friends with liberal colleagues in the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), but others are skeptical of him.

Some in the caucus have embraced freshman Rep. Allen West (Fla.), who is the first Republican to join the CBC since 1996.

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Still, some are “leery” of West, according to a CBC member who requested anonymity.

West raised some eyebrows in a CBC meeting soon after the assassination attempt of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.).

After members expressed concern for their safety, West, a two-decade plus Army veteran, said members should consider carrying a concealed weapon.

In an interview with The Hill this week, West said, “They were talking about getting detailed security and I said, ‘Well you just look in your state as far as getting a concealed weapons licensing,’ which is something that I have. I think personal protection starts with yourself, but you just coordinate with local law enforcement to make sure you have collateral security at your events.”

CBC member Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.) said West’s suggestion didn’t go over well, adding it was “frowned” on by other lawmakers.

Legislators in the CBC seem sensitive to reports highlighting controversial remarks attributed to West, including one recent statement that appeared to single out fellow CBC member Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) for his Muslim beliefs.

West argued that his initial comment that Ellison’s beliefs “represent the antithesis of the principles upon which this country was established” were misconstrued. He said the comments were “not about his Islamic faith, but about his continued support of [the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR)].”

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CBC Chairman Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.) said West has been “no different than any other member.”

“He’s not alien to Democrats. He is a former military leader who probably speaks in a different tone than a majority of the CBC members on issues of the war and those old social issues that divide Democrats and Republicans,” Cleaver said.

Freshman Rep. Tim Scott (S.C.), a black Republican, has not opted to join the CBC.

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Lewis [Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.)] told The Hill that his colleagues “see [West] as another member.”

Lewis said CBC members do not feel awkward in West’s presence–even though several members, including Lewis, campaigned against West during the 2010 election.

“CBC is very diverse. . .nbsp; [West] will fit in. He’ll be ok,” Lewis added.

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