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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.

Congressional Black Caucus members will passionately — and vocally — support President Barack Obama's jobs bill and re-election bid despite a recent public dust-up between the country's first black president and prominent African-American legislators, aides and Members insist.

The recent back-and-forth between the White House and black Members of Congress has brought to the fore a criticism among some in the CBC that Obama has not established a strong relationship with the group.

CBC Chairman Emanuel Cleaver, who endorsed Hillary Rodham Clinton in the hotly competitive 2008 Democratic primary for president, acknowledged the rift but said members would overcome it.

"Perhaps there needs to be a higher level of intentionality" on the part of the White House in regard to the CBC, the Missouri Democrat said, but he added that the CBC is "irreversibly dedicated" to the president's re-election.

"I'm more emotionally involved in the re-election because, as African-Americans, we can't stand the thought of history saying there was a failed presidency with an African-American in the White House," Cleaver said. "I think that we're going to have to work on the relationship so that we can be of better value in the president's re-election."

Still, the caucus's agitation with the president illuminates a complex relationship between the close-knit group and a president it counts as an ex-member — and, indeed, a member of the family.

"When they petition the president, for the first time ever, they're petitioning a former member of the CBC," said a former caucus staffer who is familiar with its workings. "It's a new and unique dynamic that's still playing out."

The volley played out on the public stage on the CBC's August jobs tour when its members, particularly Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), criticized the president for not targeting policies directly to African-Americans. Tensions continued after Obama offended members when he told them to "stop whining" and "take off your bedroom slippers" at a Sept. 24 CBC dinner.

Cleaver likened the comments to a "family conversation" that only two groups so closely aligned could have.

But if it's a family, two House aides familiar with the CBC's thinking said, some Members think of the president as a "deadbeat dad," largely absent from the black community but ultimately above reproach.

"It's hard to say anything because you know how much the kids love daddy," one aide said.

White House spokesman Kevin Lewis said communication has been constant.

"The White House has consistently had open lines of communication with the Congressional Black Caucus," he said. "The president met with the CBC several times this year, and he addressed the CBC Foundation dinner."

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