MF: I think that people mistakenly believe that we only represent minorities, which in fact is not true. We represent tens of millions of people. There are 42 members of the Caucus, and I would say the majority of us really do not have solidly minority districts. My own district, for example, is about 50 percent minorities. We have some members whose districts have minorities who are 14 or 17 or 20 percent. So, it’s really incorrect for people to assume that we only represent black people.
What most of us do have in common is that we represent urban areas. When you look at our urban areas you find that there are high incidences of poverty, our schools are in great need of some type of reform and we have people who find themselves in situations where government assistance is very much needed. That’s all people. Poor people, other minorities and just Americans across the board. I do want people to understand that.
TR: Given that focus, what do you make of Sen. Tim Scott’s decision not to join the CBC because, as he put it, “my campaign was never about race”?
MF: I really don’t make anything of it. Tim Scott did not join when he was a member of the House. I think that’s his personal choice, and I certainly respect his choice.
TR: What advice have you received about your new post, and what advice would you give to incoming CBC members?
MF: The advice that I would give to incoming CBC members is first to be sure that they are up on the issues, and that they take the time to not only learn what is going on legislatively, but to learn rules and learn procedures so they can be more effective in their roles as members of the Congress, not just of the CBC. It’s a steep learning curve, even for people who have legislative experience.
Second, I’d advise them to never miss an opportunity to spend as much time with their constituents as they possibly can. I think it’s important for us not only to hear what our constituents have to say, but just as importantly to let our constituents know what is going on in the House and to make sure they understand that we’re fighting to do the things that they sent us here to do.
As far as advice I’ve received, I’ve got a lot of people telling me a lot of things, but the most consistent thing is to be a leader and to work within the confines of the Caucus. We have many, many talented people, so it is important that I not try to do it all by myself. There are many people who are experienced and knowledgeable about many things here, and I want to be sure that we are all involved in the process and that we make sure that the people who are best able to lead on particular issues and subjects are the people who do that. It’s not only about me being a leader. It’s about the CBC leading.
With that, I very much expect that the CBC is going to continue to play a pivotal role in the decisions that are made in this House. We are 42 members strong, we are one of the largest caucuses in the House, we have some of the most seniority in the House and when decisions are made, we want to be at the table.
Jenée Desmond-Harris is The Root‘s staff writer and White House correspondent.