Top Congressional Black Caucus members are rejecting suggestions that an unprecedented number of public embarrassments in recent months have diminished the group’s clout.
CBC veterans have dominated the news lately, but not for their successes. Monday was supposed to mark the start of the ethics trial of Rep. Maxine Waters, but the House ethics committee opted 10 days ago to return the case to investigators, citing “materials discovered that may have had an effect” on the case, according to a statement.
The California Democrat is alleged to have allowed her staff to help direct federal bailout money to a bank in which her husband had a financial stake.
Meanwhile, Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.) is awaiting a House vote on whether he will be censured. In addition to Waters’ and Rangel’s ethics charges, five other CBC members were found this year to have improperly — but inadvertently — accepted corporate-funded travel to the Caribbean. The ethics committee has also interviewed staff for Rep. Laura Richardson, apparently in response to allegations that the California Democrat forced her staff to volunteer for her campaign.
Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, incoming chairman of the CBC, said the ethics cases have no bearing on the group’s influence.
“I think it would be a mistake to assume that an investigation of two members of a specific caucus demeans the entire caucus,” the Missouri Democrat said. “I mean, anybody here in Congress who has gotten into trouble we could probably trace to their Congressional caucus, whether it’s Duke Cunningham or Charlie Rangel or the guy tickling his staff members. ... So I don’t think that’s accurate at all.”
Cleaver said the cases are getting more attention because the members are black.
“I understand this is a statement of condemnation and that because they are African-American, it generates a bit more attention simply because it is a large minority in the nation and Congress,” he said.
Outgoing CBC Chairwoman Barbara Lee said, “I think the CBC is well- positioned to play a leadership role in the next Congress.”
The California Democrat defended Rangel and Waters. In Waters’ case, the committee “still, for whatever reasons, has postponed her hearing. I think that says a lot about [her] case,” Lee said.
Lee pointed out that Rangel hired a forensic accountant and the committee concluded he was not trying to enrich himself.
“Members of Congress are human beings and make mistakes,” she said.
Still, several K Streeters and Democratic aides said the CBC’s credibility has taken a hit as the group stands behind Members who are facing ethics probes.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.