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Leaders Say CBC Is Still a Powerhouse

Tom Williams/Roll Call
Rep. Maxine Waters on Monday protested the ethics committee’s delay of her trial, while Congressional Black Caucus leaders said the case had no effect on the group’s stature.

“I think the last two years have been really problematic for them because they’ve had to be so reactionary,” one Democratic aide said. “They’ve done very little ... in terms of putting out a proactive plan and strategy. They had a real opportunity to be a strong echo for a lot of the initiatives that the Democratic Caucus was working on passing.”

Instead, CBC members were “jammed up” defending their members in high profile investigations, the aide said.

“I think that they have to take a very close look at whether or not it’s worth it to spend capital and prestige by continuing to defend some of their members who are under investigation,” the aide said. “It ends up being a pox on the entire caucus.”

Other CBC members have had to fight for their positions in leadership. Majority Whip James Clyburn nearly lost his spot in leadership when Democrats lost the House. The South Carolina Democrat challenged Majority Leader Steny Hoyer for the Whip position in the minority before cutting a deal with Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) after he realized that he likely could not beat the Maryland Democrat for the post. While Clyburn remains in leadership at the No. 3 post, a detailed portfolio of his responsibilities has not been released.

Rep. Edolphus Towns is also facing a challenge from Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) to be ranking member on Oversight and Government Reform. Towns, who has been making calls for support, said he’s confident he will win.

“We feel really good about it,” the New York Democrat said. “The committee folks have indicated their support. I think that’s crucial because these are people that you’ve worked with over the last two years.”

A Democratic aide with ties to the group disputed the notion that the group’s clout had taken a hit, noting that the CBC — unlike other Democratic splinter groups — actually increased its membership in the midterms. The CBC will be the largest caucus in the House in the 112th Congress.

“In a time when Democrats are reviewing the most recent elections and regrouping, planning for the future, I think CBC members are recognizing the role they’ve historically played and the important role they can play in the future of the party,” the aide said.

For example, Rep. Keith Ellison (Minn.) or Rep. Donna Edwards (Md.) could lead the Congressional Progressive Caucus next Congress.

The aide accused outside groups of taking aim at the group and its members, in part through frivolous claims of ethical impropriety.

“They are the heart of the Democratic party, and I think that outside opponents recognize that and have been targeting them for that reason,” the aide said.

Kathleen Hunter contributed to this report.

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