The 112th Congress has convened with a new chairman for the Congressional Black Caucus, Rep. Emanuel Cleaver II. Coming to the House of Representatives for his third term from Missouri’s Fifth District, he serves on the Financial Services Committee, Homeland Security Committee and the Speaker’s Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming.
The Congressional Black Caucus was formed in 1971 to help improve the ability of Black elected officials to support their constituencies. It is also “at the forefront of legislative campaigns for human and civil rights for all citizens,” according to the organization’s website.
Shortly after taking the office of chair, Rep. Cleaver answered a few questions for the AFRO.
Q: What are some of the core issues you would like to see the CBC focus on during your term?
Chairman Cleaver: We are going to help the president in his goal of creating jobs. One of the major problems with the last two years is our inability to demonstrate to the American public … that we were pushing for jobs. They didn’t see it. We’ve got to support the president on any plan that he brings forth to create jobs. We will begin this , sending communications to the White House about the need for summer jobs for youth.
Q: What concerns does the CBC have with the outcome of the Census?
CC: We are extremely concerned about the upcoming redistricting as a result of the … Census. We have a number of seats that are voting rights seats, … created in response to the passage of the Voting Rights Bill. there can be no intentionality by a state to redistrict one of these seats in a way that makes it make it impossible for an African American to win.
We have a number of seats that are not voting rights seats. I represent a district, we’re 17 percent Black. We have a district in Minnesota, that Keith Ellison represents, 14 percent . Those are not voting rights seats. We are going to have challenges, trying to make sure that those of us who represent majority districts are still able to represent those districts without being pulled into suburban areas that we can’t possibly win.
In attempt to be ready for the battles ahead, we have already appointed a committee to be co-chaired by Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas who is an attorney and Lacy Clay from St. Louis, Mo., who was the House chair of the Census Oversight Committee. Their work presented to them. We are on top of it. We intend to fight for 42 seats to be here when the next Congress .
Q: In recent months, the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) has come out against President Barack Obama’s position on several issues. Is this an indication of a trend or a continuation of earlier attempts to get this administration to include the CBC at the table or in an advisory role?
Chairman Cleaver: We have come out in opposition to several of the initiatives of President Obama. We will never come out against President Obama.
We believe that it is important for us to help him build a successful administration by bumping against him on policies that we think will in the long run be detrimental to our constituency. But, it is also important that we convey to Black readers, especially, that the CBC has never gone through a two-year period or a four-year period with any administration … where there were not disagreements.
We think that we would do this administration a great injustice if we failed to speak out on matters that we strongly support or oppose. But there will be no plans to out President Obama. We will not attack him. And our plan, of course, is when we have a disagreement, we hope to be able to discuss those with him early on when issues surface, as opposed to when they are reaching the floor, which is what happened with the tax bill. I think we have expressed that to the president. He is saying yes, we want to deal with those issues early on. There won’t be a lot of public acrimony oozing out from the CBC.
I think it is also important to say: it’s okay if African Americans disagree with African Americans. If we do not disagree with each other, we don’t help each other develop the strongest positions possible. It is only when I meet with resistance that I am forced to further develop my policies and to have a much deeper root to why we’re doing it.
That’s why we have a CBC as opposed to a congressional Black person. Because when we have the Caucus, we have 42 brains, and some very sharp ones at that, to help give the person who’s out front a solid foundation as he or she deals with issues.
Q: You mentioned the tax cuts, and that the CBC had some differences with the President on that. Could you elaborate?
CC: The majority of us voted against it. We didn’t vote against the President. We understand that he was pushed into this situation in an attempt to make sure that individuals who were unemployed could receive unemployment benefits. … We had difficulty trying to justify doing something for two years for the wealthiest people in the country, and then at the same time slapping people who are unemployed, through no fault of their own, with unemployment benefits for only a year.
And incidentally, these are not people who are loafing, trying to live off the dole and that kind of thing. These are firefighters and teachers and laborers; people who worked in factories that closed. These are people who live next door. Think about the fact that tens of thousands of people have been laid off in state government all around the country. So we are saying we are not as concerned about you folks as we are about 2 percent of the richest people in the country?
We didn’t have unanimity of vote; we had unanimity of thought that this is not the healthiest thing we could have done.