Sept. 3, 2014 SIGN IN | REGISTER

CBC Grouses but Will Back Obama

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Congressional Black Caucus Chairman Emanuel Cleaver acknowledged a rift between the group and President Barack Obama but said members would overcome it.

Though Obama has strong personal relationship with individual Members in the caucus, the connection to the group as a whole is lacking, the House aides said.

"You would think there would be a firm, real relationship," a third aide said.

But Obama's relationship with the caucus has always been complicated and dates back to his 2000 primary race against Illinois Rep. Bobby Rush, a former Black Panther and an example of the CBC's old-guard civil rights contingent.

As a Senator from 2004 until 2008, Obama attended some CBC meetings but failed to establish close relationships with many fellow black legislators.

Aides said that disconnect paired with the CBC's long-standing ties to the Clintons resulted in the caucus splitting endorsements during the 2008 Democratic presidential primary.

Aides conceded there might be misplaced expectations; the CBC expects unique access even though none was ever promised, while Obama assumes there should be unyielding support.

"We both expect some sort of understanding, and we've both been disappointed because we didn't really ever clearly say what that understanding is," an aide said.

But nonetheless, aides and Members said even the most obvious outreach efforts are lacking. For instance, Members complain that they are not notified if Obama or a member of his Cabinet visits their district.

Even Assistant House Minority Leader James Clyburn, who is a close ally of the president and endorsed him late in the primary over Clinton, said "no one told me" when senior White House adviser Valerie Jarrett visited his South Carolina district in August.

"I found out she was coming by seeing it in the newspapers. The coordination is very poor. Those things they could be much better," the No. 3 Democrat said. "I've heard that complaint pretty often, and I don't quite understand why."

Clyburn and other Members chalked the misunderstandings up to a difference in style, with Obama's disciplined approach butting heads with some pugilistic CBC activists.

"The friction is there because we are trying to accomplish the same goal and maybe doing it in a different way," said Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.), who endorsed Obama late in the presidential primary and said he supports him wholeheartedly. "Historically, the CBC would do it in a more confrontational way."

But Obama has not hired formerly elected black officials as staff who could connect with the CBC, Clyburn added.

"I think it would make a whole lot of difference in terms of developing the kinds of relationships with other elected officials if some black elected officials were there," he said.

Meanwhile, the CBC has made inroads with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee to build its own election chances for next year.

While the caucus and DCCC Chairman Steve Israel locked horns earlier this year when the New York lawmaker said the party would not need the CBC to win back the House, the two parties have since worked together.

Israel appointed Clyburn to serve as chairman of a new Member Advisory Board, and collectively, CBC members have given more than $1 million in dues and hosted more fundraising events than any other group except for the Congressional Caucus on Women's Issues, according to a DCCC source.

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