Since its inception 40 years ago, the Congressional Black Caucus has participated in irregular meetings with both Democratic and Republican presidents that have for the most part turned out to be little more than unproductive gripe sessions. But when CBC leaders meet with President Obama Wednesday afternoon for the first Oval Office meeting in the group’s history, things will be different, CBC Chairman Emmanuel Cleaver (D-Missouri) said in an exclusive interview with BET.com.
For one thing, only members of CBC’s executive committee will be in attendance. In the past, meetings with the president have included the entire group, whether it was the 13 original members or the current 40-plus. As keen observers of Obama are aware, that is a scenario for which he has little patience or appetite. It also will not include the airing of grievances or accolades that typically define such events.
“I’ve been in those meetings over the years, and I have to say, in spite of the goals, desires and hopes of everyone who participated, I don’t think anything has come out of any of those meetings,” Cleaver said.
Instead, the group intends to present the president with a list of problems faced by African-American communities that it feels the administration needs to address and viable solutions to fix those problems. Once a more solid game plan has been identified, the entire group will meet with Obama for a more detailed discussion. Cleaver declined to name specific topics for discussion, saying it would be inappropriate to offer a preview before the president has an opportunity to hear them.
“But I intend to have a very candid conversation with the president about issues that are in some instances unique to African-Americans,” Cleaver said. “Some of those issues will obviously and necessarily be related to the upcoming continuing resolution and our desire to have some part of that resolution address the pain and anguish of many African-Americans and vulnerable populations, which includes people who never thought they’d be there—firefighters, teachers, police officers, state workers who are now unemployed and therefore on the verge of losing their homes.”
Cleaver added that he hopes that as a former member of the CBC, Obama, ”hearing in a very clear and unambiguous way” the group’s concerns, will “find that our recommendations are both in line with his own and doable.”
(Photo: Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images)