It has been two years since President Obama met privately with the Congressional Black Caucus, his former colleagues.
But the gap was not an issue, given the seriousness of the other concerns that were discussed during a 90-minute meeting between the president and the 43-member caucus on July 9 at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, said CBC Chair Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio).
Obama had come under fire from the Ohio Democrat earlier this year for the lack of diversity in his second-term cabinet. On July 9, however, she thanked him for nominating two Black men to prominent posts – Anthony Foxx as transportation secretary and Mel Watt to head the Federal Housing Finance Agency.
Obama recognized the work of the CBC in attaining the legislative gains of his first term, but they all agreed that there was much more work to be done and it could only be achieved together.
“We are on the same page,” Fudge told reporters after the meeting.
Of “urgent” concern, CBC members said, are the high student loan interest rates and changes to the Parent PLUS loan program that have adversely impacted students and Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). The rate doubled last week, fallout from a fight with congressional Republicans over the best formula for setting rates.
According to the White House, the president said education remains “a top priority in his administration from cradle to career” and he assured the caucus that he would work to restore the low interest rates.
Immigration also was raised, and CBC members pushed to ensure that Black immigrants from the Caribbean and Africa are included in any final agreement.
Both the CBC and the president expressed dismay at the Supreme Court’s recent decision, which has undermined the efficacy of the Voting Rights Act, and they collectively strategized about ways to strengthen minority voting rights in the wake of that ruling.
“The President reaffirmed his commitment to addressing voter discrimination through the Department of Justice and expressed his interested in working with Congress to pass legislation to ensure that every American who is eligible to vote has access to the polls,” the White House said in a statement.
Also discussed was the need to address the persistent poverty and high unemployment rate that plague the African-American community and to boost the lagging economy at large. In addition, reducing gun violence, marketing the Affordable Care Act in communities around the nation, youth employment and boosting Black-owned businesses in urban and rural areas were the other issues discussed during the CBC meeting with the president.