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Meeting With the President, Again

Once kept at arm's length, the Congressional Black Caucus is a more frequent guest at the White House. That change, CBC Chairman Emanuel Cleaver tells The Root, reflects the urgency of issues like unemployment.


Today President Barack Obama will meet at the White House with the Congressional Black Caucus -- less than two months after his Oval Office sit-down with the CBC's five-member executive board in March, and one week after the caucus met with White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley. It's a noticeable change of pace from the previous Congress, during which Obama met with the CBC just two times in two years.

While CBC Chairman Emanuel Cleaver is pleased by the improved lines of communication with Obama, the meeting comes amid an exceedingly dismal political climate: a jobs report with black unemployment rising yet again, to 16 percent, congressional deficit-reduction campaigns to slash more social services for the poor and no clear action plan to remedy these issues.

Just before the CBC's White House discussion, Rep. Cleaver talked to The Root about the group's priorities going in, the caucus' new plan for maneuvering around a Republican-controlled House and how lone Republican member Allen West is fitting into the club.

The Root: This will be the CBC's second meeting with the president in the past few months. Why the increased attention?

Emanuel Cleaver: The reason we're meeting more than CBC groups in previous years is rather simple: The problems we face are Herculean and much more in need of multiple bodies providing attention. So the president wants to meet with members who represent the nation's disproportionately vulnerable population, and we are they. On this particular occasion, the White House staff contacted us, and we promptly said, "Yes, we would like to have that time with the president."

TR: You also met with White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley last month. What's been the takeaway from all of these conversations, and what specific action steps are you building toward?

EC: We believe that there's a need for an aggressive jobs program. Our meetings are consistently dealing with the jobs program in terms of the president hearing not complaints but proposals from us on how we can put something like that in place.

TR: Is there specific jobs legislation that the CBC is pushing for the White House to support?

EC: Well, no. Legislation won't matter because we're in the minority. I'm not supposed to say that, but the truth is it won't matter. We're not going to be able to get any Democratic jobs program approved. But there are other options and opportunities for us, and we are exploring them.

I don't want to get into specifics because we haven't met yet, and that would be improper. But we believe that there are creative ways of doing things without approaching the legislature or requiring a new allocation of funds. We can approach the jobs program -- albeit less potently than we would if we were in charge -- if we look at new and creative ways to do it. The old ways just won't work.