Black Lawmakers Talk Issues, Brainstorm Strategy at Nightly Dinners in D.C.

From left: Reps. Cedric Richmond, D-La., James Clyburn, D-S.C., and Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., right, are the only blacks and the only Democrats in their House delegations. The three have a long-standing tradition of getting together for dinner and talking about issues important to the South. (Photo: Christopher Powers, USA TODAY)
From left: Reps. Cedric Richmond, D-La., James Clyburn, D-S.C., and Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., right, are the only blacks and the only Democrats in their House delegations. The three have a long-standing tradition of getting together for dinner and talking about issues important to the South. (Photo: Christopher Powers, USA TODAY)

Rep. James Clyburn had just about polished off his chicken and dumplings one recent evening when Rep. Bennie Thompson joined him at the table just inside the restaurant at the National Democratic Club.

Rep. Cedric Richmond showed up a few minutes later, completing the threesome.

Clyburn of South Carolina, Thompson of Mississippi and Richmond of Louisiana have a four-year tradition of eating dinner together at the same table at the Capitol Hill restaurant every night Congress is in session.

They talk about issues important to the South and ways to advance their shared legislative agenda.

“We solve — and create — a lot of problems right here,” Clyburn said.

The three are the only Democratic members of Congress from their states, and the only black lawmakers in their states’ House delegations. That bond — and their shared experience growing up in the South — unite them on issues such as voting rights, early education, affordable health care and historically black colleges.

“There’s just a lot of synergy,” Thompson said. “Part of being together is also, how can we promote collectively good policies for the people we represent. It’s tough being the lone voice of reason from your state. You got to have some solace with talking to somebody.”

Richmond, the youngest member of the group, sees his two dinner companions as mentors. Clyburn and Thompson are serving their 12th terms, and Clyburn is the House assistant Democratic leader.

“It’s more out of friendship, but for me I learn an awful lot from those dinners,” said Richmond, who was elected in 2010. “You get a sense of where we’re headed (and) what we’re doing.”

The three, all members of the Congressional Black Caucus, mostly talk politics — how to get bills passed, which issues should be top Democratic priorities, and how to counter the GOP’s legislative moves. They said they’re bracing for even tougher battles now that Republicans have expanded their majority in the House.

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SOURCE: Deborah Barfield Berry
USA TODAY

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