CBC Chairwoman: Race a Factor in Filibusters

Fudge says she thinks race is a factor in Senate filibusters. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Minutes after Senate Republicans blocked confirmation of an African-American judge to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, Congressional Black Caucus Chairwoman Marcia L. Fudge, D-Ohio, suggested that one of the motivators for the filibuster was his race.

"I certainly think it had some impact," said Fudge at a press conference flanked by fellow CBC members and Democratic Sens. Benjamin L. Cardin of Maryland and Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island after Republicans blocked Judge Robert L. Wilkins. "It is clear who they are keeping out of judicial nominations and other positions that we know have to be filled for the government to run effectively.

"You have to ask them what their motives are," Fudge continued. "All I know is what I see."

Fudge's remarks at the press briefing, convened to coincide with the expected doomed Senate vote to invoke cloture on Wilkins' nomination, 53-38, also came weeks after the Senate filibustered the nomination of Rep. Melvin Watt, D-N.C., to head up the Federal Housing Finance Agency.

"Senate Republicans are playing games with the nomination of my colleague, Mel Watt ... likely the only sitting member of Congress in decades to have their confirmation blocked," Fudge said. "The filibustering of Watt must be addressed."

Watt, an eleven-term veteran of Congress, is a member of the CBC, and his colleagues were enthusiastically pushing for his appointment due both to his credentials and to the diversity he would bring to the Obama administration.

"What is the price we pay for prejudice?" Fudge asked. "All or most of the candidates that are being filibustered are women and minorities."

Not everyone at the press conference touched on the racial or gender dynamics of the stalled Obama nominations, however, and Fudge herself acknowledged that this was only one part of the equation.

The major criticism of Senate Republicans came from Cardin and Whitehouse, who suggested that the blocked motions to invoke cloture were politically motivated: The GOP simply do not want to advance the nominations of a Democratic president.

Cardin, however, did make reference to Wilkins' successful lawsuit against the Maryland State Police after his family fell victim to officers' racial profiling. That suit, Cardin said, became the basis for President Bill Clinton's related executive orders.

"And I'm hopeful that we'll pass a national law against racial profiling," Cardin said.

Wilkins' blocked nomination has also reignited discussions over whether there needs to be a Senate rules changed to remove the 60-vote hurdle for presidential nominees, the so-called "nuclear option."