As the debate over jobs turns into the latest political tug-of-war, Rep. Emanuel Cleaver of Missouri walks a careful but candid line.
As chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, he has been at odds with President Barack Obama over his administration’s response to the soaring unemployment rate in the African-American community.
Nearing 17 percent, joblessness among blacks is at a three-decade high and almost twice the size of the overall unemployment rate. The black caucus wants the president to do more.
But the group’s efforts are freighted with political sensitivities, given Obama’s unique role as the first African-American occupant of the White House and the sometimes untethered animosity that his election has triggered.
“If (former President) Bill Clinton had been in the White House and had failed to address this problem, we probably would be marching on the White House,” Cleaver said. “There is a less-volatile reaction in the CBC because nobody wants to do anything that would empower the people who hate the president.”
The black caucus has 43 members who come from nearly two dozen states. Its concerns about black unemployment are not Cleaver’s only frustration these days.
One member of the caucus, Democratic Rep. Andre Carson of Indiana, recently said that tea party members of Congress “would love to see you and me … hanging on a tree.” Another, Democratic Rep. Maxine Waters of California, told a community meeting that the tea party “can go straight to hell.”
Relations between the black caucus and the tea party always have been tense. During the health care debate, black lawmakers said that angry tea party protesters outside the Capitol called them racial epithets. Cleaver said he was spat upon.
Carson apologized for his remarks. He said he was speaking “figuratively,” because tea party-backed cuts in social programs would “take us back 50 to 60 years.” Waters always has been one of the group’s most outspoken members and has been vocal with her concerns about Obama’s response to black unemployment.
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SOURCE: McClatchy Newspapers