President Barack Obama looks toward Rep. Andre Carson as he meets with the Congressional Black Caucus in the State Dining Room of the White House, May 12, 2011. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
The Congressional Black Caucus met with President Barack Obama at the White House Feb. 10 in a 90-minute pow-wow on issues relating to criminal justice, the economy, trade and more.
“Members of the CBC just wrapped up a productive meeting with President Obama at the White House. The CBC looks forward to working with the White House to improve the lives of all Americans,” a CBC statement read following the meeting.
CBC lawmakers have been among the staunchest supporters of the nation’s first African-American president, though the group’s relationship with its former member has been complicated and he has not escaped their criticism. But many also place blame for the president’s handicaps squarely at the feet of obstructionist Republicans.
“There have been isolated disappointments with the White House,” said CBC Chairman G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.) said last month in an interview with The Hill. “But generally speaking I think — and I think that the vast, the overwhelming, majority of CBC members feel — that this president has been unfairly isolated by the Republicans. And his legacy is going to be a good legacy.”
Among the chief issues addressed in the White House meeting was criminal justice reform—something Black lawmakers have long championed which gained greater urgency last year in the wake of several police killings of unarmed Black men.
President Obama emphasized the “critical need” to build trust between communities and law enforcement officials, according to a White House statement.
“We had a very robust conversation about criminal justice reform, not only about police misconduct, but also about prosecutorial misconduct,” Butterfield said as quoted by The Associated Press. The chairman said members also raised the need to reduce incarceration in the United States.
The issue of Black unemployment was also a central concern of the CBC members, a concern the president shared, according to the White House statement. Jobless rates among Blacks have usually been double that of the national average—in January, for example, unemployment among African Americans was 10.3 percent, compared to 5.7 percent for the overall population.
CBC members and the president discussed targeted spending in areas with persistently abject poverty rates—an idea long championed by South Carolina Rep. Jim Clyburn—and how to reach those who are not benefitting from the economy, according to the AP report.
Part of the solution could lie in the administration’s trade agenda, which “would provide new opportunities for workers and support economic growth by opening markets, enforcing high-standards in our agreements, and leveling the playing field for our workers,” the president told the CBC.
Obama called on the CBC to support his bid for trade promotion authority, which would block Congress from changing trade deals negotiated by the White House—though retaining lawmakers’ power to reject or approve the plans.
But Democrats and their allies are skeptical, blaming past trade agreements for lost jobs.
“He acknowledged that there have been some problems in the past with some trade agreements but believes this trade agreement will be infinitely better in terms of safeguards,” said Rep. Emanuel Cleaver of Missouri, according to the AP. “The bottom line is what we have to make a decision on is how much trust and confidence we have in the president because there is nothing that we’re going to know until it’s been negotiated.”