Newswire : CBC women demand apology from Trump’s Chief of Staff John Kelly

By Hazel Trice Edney

Congresswoman Fredrika Wilson (D-FL) side by side with U. S. Army Sgt. La David T. Johnson

( – The women of the Congressional Black Caucus are demanding an apology from White House Chief of Staff John Kelly for his giving the public a false account of a speech given by Florida Congresswoman Frederica Wilson and for calling her an “empty barrel”.
Kelly verbally attacked Wilson in defense of President Donald Trump after Wilson accused him of disrespecting the widow of a serviceman killed in a fierce battle in Niger Oct. 4. The body of U. S. Army Sgt. La David T. Johnson, the only African-American of four soldiers apparently killed during an Isis attack, was brought home to his widow Myeshia Johnson of Florida. He lay in a flag-draped coffin at Dover Airforce Base in Delaware.
Trump called Mrs. Johnson as she rode with her family and Congresswoman Wilson, a long-time family friend, to the airport last week. Among other words of condolences, Trump said, “He knew what he was getting into, but it hurts anyway,” according to Wilson, who listened to the President’s call on speakerphone at Mrs. Johnson’s request. Mrs. Johnson has now publically confirmed Trump’s words as recounted by Wilson. She said his tone made her cry.
“He couldn’t remember my husband’s name,” said Mrs. Johnson. “The only way he remembered my husband’s name is because he told me he had my husband’s report in front of him and that’s when he actually said ‘La David,’” she said in an interview on Good Morning America. “I heard him stumbling on trying to remember my husband’s name. And that’s what hurt me the most because if my husband is out here fighting for our country, and he risked his life for our country, why can’t you remember his name?”
Trump, in a tweet, had denied even using the words, “He knew what he was getting into.” Yet his Chief of Staff John Kelly recounted those exact words as did Mrs. Johnson and Wilson. Kelly said he is the one who advised Trump to use those words, based on words spoken to him as the father of a son killed in combat.
Yet both Kelly and Trump have attacked Wilson; the President calling her “wacky”. Kelly falsely stated that Wilson had bragged about raising money for a new FBI headquarters in an April 15, 2015 speech. A video tape of the speech actually showed her talking about successfully helping to name the headquarters – nothing about fundraising. She was not a member of Congress when the building was funded, she stressed last week.
“Today, the women of the Congressional Black Caucus issued the following statement in response to the South Florida Sun Sentinel’s release of a video of Congresswoman Frederica Wilson’s (D-FL) 2015 speech at the dedication of a new Miramar, Florida FBI Building,” said a statement from the women of the CBC. “The video confirms that Wilson’s account of the speech is true and White House Chief of Staff John Kelly’s account of the speech is false.”
The statement continues, “The women of the Congressional Black Caucus stand in strong support of our colleague, Congresswoman Frederica Wilson. Congresswoman Wilson is a woman of impeccable integrity and a dedicated public servant. She is a highly respected Member of Congress who has demonstrated extremely competent leadership on a number of important issues, and we are especially proud of her fearless and uncompromising leadership to fight for the release of nearly 300 Nigerian school girls who were kidnapped by the terrorist group Boko Haram.”
As the back and forth raged in the media, the body of Sgt. Johnson was laid to rest Oct. 21. His widow is left to raise two small children and she is pregnant with a third baby.
Few details are available about the attack that killed Sgt. Johnson, Staff Sgt. Bryan C. Black, Staff Sgt. Jeremiah W. Johnson, and Staff Sgt. Dustin M. Wright in a part of Niger where they apparently thought she would encounter no enemy fire. News that Johnson’s body was found a mile from the site of the attack after he was missing 48 hours after the others were found added even more mystery to the situation. The Pentagon is investigating.
Meanwhile, the women of the CBC remain outraged that the character of their colleague came under attack as she stood for her constituent. Kelly has stood by his false statements.
We were appalled by White House Chief of Staff John Kelly’s statements where he called Congresswoman Wilson an ‘empty barrel’ and accused her of taking credit for securing funding for a new FBI Building in Miramar, Florida that was named after two fallen FBI agents, Benjamin Grogan and Jerry Dove. A video of Congresswoman Wilson’s comments on that day has been released, and it provides indisputable proof that she never made any of the statements of which General Kelly falsely accused her,” the release said.
“General Kelly’s comments are reprehensible. Congresswoman Wilson’s integrity and credibility should not be challenged or undermined by such blatant lies. We, the women of the Congressional Black Caucus, proudly stand with Congresswoman Wilson and demand that General Kelly apologize to her without delay and take responsibility for his reckless and false statements.”

Some say Russia ‘collusion’ investigation distracting from Black issues


By Barrington M. Salmon

Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) was among several members of the Congressional Black Caucus in the hearing room as Comey testified.
( – During former FBI Director Jim Comey’s testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee last week, the irony of Black people cheering for Comey didn’t escape African-Americans who watched the on-going saga unfold in public view last week.
In more than three hours of testimony, Comey said under oath that the president repeatedly pressed him for a pledge of loyalty and asked him to drop the investigation into former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn. And after Comey failed to fulfill the president’s wishes, Trump fired him.
In casual conversations, political discussions and debates in Black communities across the country, the question has centered on how invested African-Americans should be in the hearings and their outcome given the FBI’s history of unfairness to Black leaders, including Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Moreover, with Black progress at stake,some wonder whether the focus on the Trump-Comey controversy is too much of a destraction.
Mimi Machado-Luces, a documentary filmmaker, photographer and mother of two, said she watched the hearing and believes Trump is a liar who lacks the skills or temperament to be president. This is all the more reason that Black people must escalate thier attention to Black progress.
People of African descent in America, she said, were lulled to sleep by eight years of a Barack Obama presidency and now most still can’t rouse themselves to fully confront the dangers that the Trump administration has spawned.
“I think that we’ve fallen back onto this lull of ‘Oh…good times are over.’ We’ve fallen back into this reactionary mode,” she said. “Black Lives Matter and other groups like that are grand but I don’t see anyone coming out aggressively about things we need to be pursuing in our agenda, talking about the effects of things Trump is coming in to dismantle.”
Machado-Luces, an artist-in-residence teaching Digital Media at several DC and Maryland schools, said she wonders if and when Black people will come together and coalesce around a meaningful, substantive agenda.
“I don’t know if that will happen, probably not in my lifetime,” she said. “All I know is that there’s so much work to do. I don’t want to say we as a people lack vision. We’re psychologically lulled into accepting the oppression. I see some people trying to change things but part of the oppression is written into law. People get off when they shouldn’t.”
The intrigue and importance of the topic of possible collusion with a foreign country by a U. S presidential administration has not escaped coverage by the Black press, which has historically covered the antagonist relationship between the Black community and the FBI as well as other law enforcement agencies. DC-based independent journalist and political analyst Lauren Victoria Burke said she was among those glued to coverage, mainly because of the gravity of the events.
Burke said unlike the Iran-Contra scandal, for example, the ethical lapses and conflicts of interests swirling around this White House is a “much more serious matter because of the possibility of the president or his people being involved in treasonous activity.”
She said, “It’s a spy-level novel situation…No. I’ve never seen anything like this. The idea that somehow this is normal – none of this is normal.”
Burke, who covers Capital Hill daily, says Black Democratic lawmakers like Reps. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) and Al Green (D-Texas) have been leading the charge in criticizing Trump, calling for a special prosecutor and seeking impeachment.
“They’ve been a little bit more out in front than most people. Green and Waters have called for impeachment. They’re the only members to call for impeachment,” said Burke. “Waters came out in front very early. She talked in a way that people were saying to take it back. But it’s almost mainstream now.”
Sam Collins, a millennial grassroots journalist and activist, said he watched sections of the Comey hearing with a jaundiced eye. He’s tired, he said, of the mainstream treating critical, potentially life-and-death issues and the dysfunction and chaos emanating from the White House as a pay-per-view event. Even though he has a good handle on the inner-workings of government and its relationship with the people it purports to serve, Collins said he’s still not sure whether the entire Russia debacle is just a diversionary tactic.
“Our leaders are following Russia while districts are going through issues, such as access to quality healthcare, unemployment and other problems that were here long before Russia or Trump,” said Collins, who is a teacher with District of Columbia Public Schools. “It’s proxy war. They’re putting up this proxy war to distract us.”
As he’s watched the Trump White House try unsuccessfully to fend off a rising chorus of accusations of collusion with Russia and a variety of other potential misdeeds, Collins believes Black leaders have become distracted as African-Americans and people of color face more overt racism, unprovoked attacks, hostility from the Trump administration, and the reversal of hard-earned gains by regressive forces.
“We need to organize among ourselves,” he concluded. “The NAACP is going through an identity crisis and may be about to fall under. I wouldn’t be mad,” Collins said with a chuckle. “There are no radical voices…All this political stardom and we have no juice to move anything.”

Trump’s EPA awards Flint, Michigan, $100 million for water crisis

By Lauren Victoria Burke (NNPA Newswire Contributor)

Buried in the 24-hour news cycle of Russian conspiracies, presidential tweets, and White House nepotism, the Trump Administration found the time to set aside $100 million for the ongoing water crisis in Flint, Mich.
According to a press release about the grant, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) awarded the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) $100 million to fund drinking water infrastructure upgrades in Flint. The press release said that, “The funding, provided by the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act of 2016, or WIIN, enables Flint to accelerate and expand its work to replace lead service lines and make other critical infrastructure improvements.”
In the statement, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt said that, the people of Flint and all Americans deserve a more responsive federal government.
“EPA will especially focus on helping Michigan improve Flint’s water infrastructure as part of our larger goal of improving America’s water infrastructure,” said Pruitt.
During a March 22 meeting at the White House with seven members of the Congressional Black Caucus, Rep. Brenda Lawrence (D-Mich.), said that she and President Trump spoke about assistance for Flint.
“He said he thought it was awful and criminal…I was surprised he understood how that happened,” said Lawrence, who represents parts of Detroit. The congresswoman added that the president also wanted to know who was responsible for the lead in Flint’s water.
After the EPA announced the news, Flint Mayor Karen Weaver expressed appreciation for the funds.
“The City of Flint being awarded a grant of this magnitude in such a critical time of need will be a huge benefit,” Weaver said in a statement. “As we prepare to start the next phase of the FAST Start pipe replacement program, these funds will give us what we need to reach our goal of replacing 6,000 pipes this year and make other needed infrastructure improvements.”
Weaver continued: “We look forward to the continued support of the EPA and federal government.”
Additionally on March 28, a U.S. District Court settlement was announced, forcing the state of Michigan to set aside $97 million to replace defective water lines in Flint. The settlement money will cover 18,000 homes in the city by the year 2020.

Lauren Victoria Burke is a political analyst who speaks on politics and African American leadership. She is also a frequent contributor to the NNPA Newswire and Connect with Lauren by email at and on Twitter at @LVBurke.

CBC opposes nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch to Supreme Court and the Senate should too

Cong. Cedric Richmond.jpg

By U.S. Congressman Cedric Richmond (D-La.) (Chairman, Congressional Black Caucus)

On January 31, President Trump nominated Judge Neil Gorsuch for Associate Justice of the Supreme Court. If confirmed, Gorsuch’s lifelong appointment to the court would have serious consequences for all Americans, but especially African Americans and vulnerable communities. Judge Gorsuch has displayed hostility to the rights of minorities, women, people with disabilities, and workers, which is why the Congressional Black Caucus submitted testimony recently opposing his nomination. His judicial record on race and related matters and constitutional and equal rights litigation does not merit our support or the support of the Senate.
All interpreters of the law should be committed to fairness and justice, not a specific legal philosophy of judicial interpretation. Judge Gorsuch’s commitment to “originalism,” or, interpreting the Constitution in a way that’s consistent with the intent of those who wrote it, often results in him ruling in favor of the big guy instead of the little guy, the strong instead of the weak, and the majority instead of minorities. From 2007 to 2016, Judge Gorsuch issued 14 published judgments related to employee discrimination cases. Nine of those decisions were in favor of the employer. We need a Supreme Court justice who will judge cases on the merits, not based on his or her personal philosophies.
For example, Judge Gorsuch believes that police officers should be granted qualified immunity, which prevents law enforcement and other government officials from being held accountable for the excessive use of force. In the case of Wilson v. City of Lafayette, Gorsuch decided that a police officer was entitled to qualified immunity from an excessive force claim arising from the use of a stun gun that ultimately killed a young man. In three other cases involving police accountability, Gorsuch ruled in favor of police searches of vehicles without a warrant, minimizing the Fourth Amendment protections against unauthorized search and seizure.

Judge Gorsuch’s ruling in police accountability cases are particularly troubling given the increasing number of shooting deaths of so many unarmed African Americans by the police, and recent Department of Justice investigations that have found that police departments across the country have had a “pattern and practice” of racial discrimination.
In addition to his poor judicial record on police accountability, Judge Gorsuch has a poor judicial record on workers’ rights. His record is one of supporting employers over employees, even in the case of employees with disabilities. In Hwang v. Kansas State University, Judge Gorsuch ruled that “showing up” for work is an essential job function and that the Rehabilitation Act should not be used as a safety net for employees who cannot work. This case focused on a professor employed by Kansas State University who was diagnosed with cancer, and, after treatments that weakened her immune system, requested an extension due to a flu outbreak on the campus. Judge Gorsuch denied her request and sided with the university, compromising her health and recovery. He has a similar record when it comes to reproductive rights. In two cases, he sided with companies that wanted to deny women reproductive healthcare.

The judicial branch has the power to interpret the laws of the land, and thus, impacts every American’s way of life. This is especially true for the highest court in the land. Because of the decisions rendered by the Supreme Court, African-Americans have been granted the opportunity to attend the school of their choice, women have been granted reproductive health rights, and workers have been granted safety and security from exploitative labor practices. Judge Gorsuch’s record in each of these areas raises concerns. His commitment to “originalism” also raises concerns. The Constitution is a living and breathing document that is meant to evolve with our society and it should be interpreted as such.
As the Senate evaluates Judge Gorsuch’s judicial record, it is imperative that Senators focus on consistency. Judge Gorsuch has consistently used the bench to protect corporations, and limit the rights of minorities, women, and workers. Consequently, the Congressional Black Caucus opposes his nomination and urges the Senate to do the same.
Congressman Richmond is the 25th Chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, and represents the 2nd District of Louisiana. On Twitter, follow the caucus at @OfficialCBC and follow Congressman Richmond at @RepRichmond.

President Trump and the Black Congressional Caucus plan to meet for the first time

By Lauren Victoria Burke (NNPA Newswire Contributor)

 CBC members taken during a press conference outside of the Department of Justice in Washington, D.C. in September 2016. (Freddie Allen/AMG/NNPA)
Following a bizarre exchange with American Urban Radio Networks White House Correspondent April Ryan, the Congressional Black Caucus is in talks with President Donald Trump to set up a meeting.
Trump asked, Ryan, a veteran Black journalist, if she could set up a meeting with him and the CBC, as if Ryan was an employee of the White House or a special assistant to the CBC. Ryan responded by saying, “I’m a journalist.”
The confusing exchange was one of several moments at an unscheduled press conference Trump held at the White House on February 16.
“Since the White House has reached out in an appropriate manner to request a meeting with the caucus, I am now in discussions with them about setting one up,” Congressional Black Caucus Chairman, Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-La.) said in a statement after the press conference concluded.
During an interview on MSNBC on February 17, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) said that, “Steve Bannon cannot be in the room,” when the CBC meets with President Trump. “He’s a stone cold racist.” Bannon is currently the president’s chief strategist and served as a high-ranking executive at Breitbart News, an online publication known for trafficking in right-wing, alternative news that Bannon himself defined as “the platform for the alt-right.” The term “alt-right” is increasingly used to describe a new and emerging movement of racists and White supremacists.

Chairman Cedric Richmond (D-La.), said the following in response to President Trump’s comments regarding a meeting with the Black Caucus: “President Trump has been in office for almost a month and the Congressional Black Caucus — which at a historic 49 members is almost a fourth of the House Democratic Caucus and represents millions of African Americans — did not hear from the White House until we introduced ourselves on Twitter after the White House press conference today.”
The statement continued: “For whatever reason, the letter the Congressional Black Caucus sent to then President-elect Trump and incoming White House officials on January 19 was not enough to get their attention. As the letter explained, President Trump’s ‘New Deal for Black America’ is ill-informed and insufficient and he would be wise to tap into the decades of expertise held by the Congressional Black Caucus when it comes to addressing issues that affect African Americans.”
The CBC, which is now at its largest membership in history, traditionally requests a meeting with the new president after the inauguration. Ironically, some of the meetings the CBC had with President Obama, specifically on the topics of jobs and the challenges of Historically Black Colleges and Universities, have had tense moments. President Obama did not meet with the Congressional Black Caucus during his first year in office. Meetings between Obama and the CBC were scarce even though most of the members and the President were members of the same party.

Lauren Victoria Burke is a political analyst who speaks on politics and African American leadership. She is also a frequent contributor to the NNPA Newswire and Connect with Lauren by email at and on Twitter at @LVBurke.

New study by Cornell Belcher shows: African-Americans feel ignored by the Democratic Party


By Lauren Victoria Burke (NNPA Newswire Contributor)

cornellbelcher_fallen_web120Cornell Belcher


Cornell Belcher, the CEO of Brilliant Corners Research, said that it’s no surprise that Black voters have presented a very clear mandate to the Congressional Black Caucus to oppose the Trump Administration, because 92 percent of African Americans voted against President Trump.

“However, to maintain this broad level of support among African American voters, Democrats more broadly will have to reevaluate the way they are engaging this critical section of [their] base,” Belcher said in a statement on February 9.

Belcher made a presentation and presented his new study to members of the Congressional Black Caucus at their retreat on February 7. House Democrats then departed to Baltimore for their annual three-day retreat the next day.

Belcher’s phone survey questioned 601 African Americans, at least 18 years-old, and registered to vote; the survey was conducted from January 4-8.

The results of the Belcher survey showed that African American voters were dissatisfied with President Trump and the direction of the country, and want more drastic tactics used to fight programs and policies that negatively impact their communities. The results also showed that protecting social security, reforming the criminal justice system, keeping the country safe from terrorists and other issues are priorities for African Americans.

“African Americans are the Democratic Party’s most loyal voters and they should be treated as such,” said Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-La.), the chairman of the CBC, regarding the new study. “The results of this survey are clear marching orders for the Congressional Black Caucus — African Americans want Democrats to stop using the same old playbook and to make substantive progress on the issues that affect their communities.”

Here are some of the findings from Belcher’s study:

— A large majority of African American voters (63 percent) feel taken for granted by the Democratic Party. This startling majority represents a growing problem among one of the most critical components of Democrats winning coalition. The outcome of the 2016 election was widely the result of this coalition splintering away from the top of the ticket along the margins with younger and browner voters.

— The majority of African American voters (53 percent) want the Congressional Black Caucus to oppose President Trump. While 53 percent is not an overwhelming majority, it does represent an unusual decision for voters that normally prefer cooperation rather than obstruction from elected officials in Washington.

— African-American voters broadly support more drastic tactics to obstruct the Trump administration, including not confirming President Trump’s appointees (53 percent), sit-ins and other acts of civil disobedience.

— African-American voters are overwhelmingly dissatisfied (69 percent) with the direction of the country now, a drastic departure from the satisfaction they experienced during the Obama administration. Only 22 percent of African Americans are satisfied with direction of the country now, while 69 percent are dissatisfied.

— The list of important priorities for African American voters includes:
Protecting Social Security (88 percent, very important), keeping us safe from terrorists (78 percent), criminal justice reform (74 percent), reforming the election process so the candidate with the majority wins (72 percent), investigating Russian interference with the 2016 election (72 percent), protecting Obama’s legacy (71 percent), banning assault weapons (61 percent), and blocking Sessions (60 percent) are the top legislative priorities for African Americans nationally.

Lauren Victoria Burke is a political analyst who speaks on politics and African American leadership. She is also a frequent contributor to the NNPA Newswire and Connect with Lauren by email at and on Twitter at @LVBurke.

The CBC places Blacks in power on Capitol Hill

By Lauren Victoria Burke (NNPA Newswire Contributor)

hillstaffers_7892_fallen_web120More than 75 percent of the members of the Congressional Black Caucus have Black Chiefs of Staff. This photo was taken during a recent CBC press conference outside of the Department of Justice in Washington, D.C. (Freddie Allen/AMG/NNPA)


In early December, the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies led by Spencer Overton, released a devastating report on staff diversity in the United States Senate.“African-Americans make up 13 percent of the U.S. population, but only 0.9 percent of top Senate staffers,” the report found.

The Joint Center was careful to focus on senior staff positions in their Senate staff study. On January 5, the National Urban League will host a forum on Senate staff diversity on Capitol Hill. The only good news regarding the numbers on Black staff in the halls of power in Capitol Hill is on the House side.

More than 75 percent of the members of the Congressional Black Caucus have Black Chiefs of Staff. Currently, 32 members of the CBC have a Black Chief of Staff. Additionally, the Senate’s only Black Republican, Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC), currently employs the Senate’s only Black Chief of Staff.

In July, Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan posted a photo on Instagram of over 70 Capitol Hill interns and not one was African American. Internships and fellowships on Capitol Hill are a key pipeline to building leadership experience in the halls of power.

Speaker Ryan’s Instagram image was a jarring visual of what many have known on Capitol Hill for years: That the staffs and the pipelines to get to power and be positioned for decision-making roles remains overwhelmingly White. Ironically, Ryan will have a Black Chief of Staff, Jon Burks, starting this month.

But when it comes to the number of senior staffers in Congress overall, particularly Chiefs of Staff, members of the CBC easily employ the majority. Though Black Chiefs of Staff are all but non-existent (1 percent) in the U.S. Senate, on the House side it’s a different story. Black Chiefs include Duron Marshall who is Rep. Brenda Lawrence’s (D-Mich.) Chief of Staff; Yelberton Watkins, who is Rep. Jim Clyburn’s (D-S.C.) longtime Chief of Staff; Michael Cooper who is Rep. John Lewis’ (D-Ga.) Chief of Staff and Veleter Mazyck, who is Rep. Marcia Fudge’s (D-Ohio) Chief of Staff.

It matters who serves in the very top jobs: Those in senior staff positions have a major say in policy decisions and advise lawmakers directly. Chiefs of Staff and other senior staff members often move on to powerful well paying jobs in the private sector.

On Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., just as in most places where there are budgets allocations to be decided on and jobs to fill, the person who makes the decision on those matters is the person with the most power and that often is not only the elected official, but also their Chief of Staff.             The Chief is also the gatekeeper for resumes and hiring staff. A typical Chief of Staff on Capitol Hill earns between $120,000 and $168,000.The conversation on hiring has been going on for years, but it was crystalized by the detailed report by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies.

For many White Democrats in the Senate the numbers are particularly embarrassing. Several Senators, who have millions of African American constituents, have no Black senior staff members. The state with the most African Americans in the U.S. is Georgia with 3.1 African Americans according to the 2010 Census. Georgia is followed by New York (3 million), Florida (2.9 million), Texas (2.9 million), California (2.9 million), North Carolina (2 million), Illinois (1.8 million), Maryland (1.7 million), Virginia (1.5 million) and Louisiana (1.5 million).

But not one Black senior staffer from any of those states now serves on the staffs of the U.S. Senators from the above states with the largest African American populations. None of them have a Black Chief of Staff, Legislative Director, Communications Director or State Director.

On December 12, outgoing Congressional Black Caucus Chairman G.K. Butterfield released a statement on staff diversity. “The near complete absence of African American senior staff in personal and committee offices in the Senate is not reflective of the inclusiveness ideals of our government, and of our country. The CBC has long championed African American inclusion in all industries, and launched CBC TECH 2020 last year to promote diversity in the technology industry,” said Butterfield. “But the fact that the United States Congress, an institution that was created to represent all people, still has not taken meaningful steps to increase diversity is disappointing and requires an immediate remedy.”

Butterfield continued: “There are plenty of offices hiring, on both sides of the aisle, and in both chambers, where Senators and Representatives can hire talented African American candidates. Yet, from our records, with the start of the next Congress, the Senate is poised to have one African American Senate Chief of Staff and no African American staff directors, if immediate action is not taken.”

Lauren Victoria Burke is a political analyst who speaks on politics and African American leadership. Lauren is also a frequent contributor to the NNPA Newswire and She can be contacted at and on Twitter at @LVBurke.


With Flint victory, African American lawmakers increase their clout in Congress


By Karoun Demirjian and Mike DeBonis , Washington Post

black-congressional-caucusMembers of the Black Congressional Caucus speak out on issues, from left are: Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., Rep. Marcia L. Fudge, D-Ohio, Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., Rep. Frederica Wilson, D-Fla., and Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

As the country’s first Black president prepares to leave the White House, African-American members of Congress are exerting increasing influence on Capitol Hill.

The Congressional Black Caucus has emerged as the driving force behind several dramatic standoffs in Washington this year – most recently spurring successful efforts to secure funding for the water crisis in Flint, Mich. as part of a budget deal that sent lawmakers home for the elections.

“Our minority caucuses do not want to vote for a bill that does not have Flint in it,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told reporters, just hours before striking the deal to secure at least $170 million in Flint funding. “I don’t think our black caucus will vote for it…without Flint.”

The CBC has always been an influential faction of House Democrats, but its power is rising as Congress struggles to respond to a series of racially charged police shootings of African-Americans around the country.  The 43-member caucus — which includes only one Republican, Utah Rep. Mia Love — now intends to capitalize on that influence to force action on issues of importance to black Americans.

In addition to pushing the budget to the brink over Flint funding, CBC leaders like Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) helped organize a nationally televised sit-in in June demanding votes on gun control legislation.

            “The extent to which you get agreement on Flint essentially means that we are educating our caucus” of House Democrats, said Rep. Jim Clyburn (S.C.), the House’s No. 3 Democrat. “I will use that success, to show we have not just zeroed in on this, in the next Congress.”

Clyburn said that despite the incidents playing out across the country, and the racially-charged language that has taken over the debate surrounding it, the country is better off than it was when Obama took office.

“President Obama took the baton from us, and now he’s about to give it back,” Clyburn said. “He’s handing the baton to us with the country in a much better place than it was when we handed it to him.”

Black lawmakers trace the current upswing in influence to a bitter debate over allowing Confederate flags on federal grounds forced Republicans to yank a spending bill off the House floor.

New York Democrat Hakeem Jeffries called that episode, and the 25-hour sit-in over gun control, “probably the two most dramatic moments that we’ve had in the House since the government shutdown” in 2013.

            Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.), a former CBC chair, said that the House leadership is taking notice of the group’s increased clout.

“The leadership is far more sensitive on the issue of inclusion and making sure that everybody’s voice counts than in previous times here in Congress,” Cleaver said. “So it’s not like ‘Oh, here they come again.’ It was like: ‘We know you guys are interested and we want you to come up and talk.’”

Black lawmakers are also responding to a political atmosphere in which GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump charged that Black Lives Matter protests are driving the killings by police and said that black communities are “in the worst shape they’ve ever been.”

And they’ve spoken out, loudly, when some of their colleagues — most recently North Carolina Republican Rep. Robert Pittenger — have made racially inept remarks. In televised comments to the BBC, Pittenger said that black protesters “hate white people” — comments that CBC members called “ignorant” and “beyond the pale.”

CBC Chairman G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.) said last week that Pittenger had personally and sincerely “apologized multiple times” for what he said, and that the CBC is “ready to move on.”

            But the episode, as well as the legislative muscle the CBC has been flexing, illustrate a key element of the group’s strategy.

“When we are united we are a force to be reckoned with,” said Butterfield said.

Members say being in the House minority has made it easier for Democrats to band together. “We don’t control either body here, and we’ve been forced to work better together,” Clyburn said. “As a result, I think you’ve seen some better results.”

Black lawmakers said they now intend to focus on economic solutions in other majority-black cities. They said their next fights will be for resources to expand access to housing, education, and the sort of community revitalization programs that attract business, tax dollars, and better water, sewage, roads and bridges as a result.

Clyburn expressed optimism that such changes were within reach, pointing to recent bipartisan support for a CBC-championed anti-poverty plan, which Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) have both endorsed.

But in order to expand their influence, Clyburn and other CBC members are acutely aware that their challenge is to convince their colleagues that the issues that matter to African-Americans should matter to all Americans.

Poverty, they believe, is an area where that should be an easy sell. “We have had the kind of experiences like the people in Flint, so we can personalize this stuff in a way that a lot of other members can’t,” Clyburn said. “But it’s time for us to get beyond this color business…this is not about black communities, this is about needy communities.”

White communities in places like Kentucky and West Virginia are just as economically bad if not worse off than many poor black communities, Clyburn pointed out. Two-thirds of poor counties in America are represented by Republicans, he added, expressing frustration that “the moment you start talking about poverty, the face of poverty’s always black.”