Lewis, a civil rights icon and member of the Congressional Black Caucus, greets Obama on the House floor before the president’s State of the Union address to Congress. The relationship between Obama and the CBC has been a complicated one.
About one month into her new position leading the Congressional Black Caucus, Rep. Marcia L. Fudge already has shown a willingness to push the nation’s first African-American president aggressively behind the scenes to embrace her group’s priorities.
The Ohio Democrat moved quickly to promote three CBC members for open Cabinet positions, highlighting a long-standing sore spot in the relationship between the CBC and President Barack Obama.
Obama, in turn, dispatched top aide Valerie Jarrett for her first Capitol Hill meeting of the second term to meet with the CBC for a State of the Union preview and listening session with members.
In an interview, Fudge deemed the president’s speech a success for the group, noting that he addressed voting rights, poverty and immigration.
“We were very happy that he talked about our three biggest issues that the caucus deals with,” Fudge said. “Since I have been chair, I have had a good relationship and do have communication with the White House.”
Privately, the relationship between the two entities has been complicated for a long time, with members complaining about social snubs and Obama’s reluctance to address the high black unemployment rate head on.
In late 2011, the disagreements culminated in a public spat. But more often, they have been masked. White House officials are sensitive to any conflict being reported in the press, and CBC members often hold their tongues.
“What we have been very careful to avoid is aiding and abetting the haters. The president is the subject of a lot of unfair and awful criticism. We have chosen rather than joining with that crowd, to issue our concern in a different form. Most of it has not been public, and I doubt seriously that there will be a change in the second term,” said Rep. Emanuel Cleaver II of Missouri, who preceded Fudge as CBC chairman.
The rift over Obama’s Cabinet is a case in point on the sometimes strained relationship between the president and the CBC.
There was some jealousy in Obama’s first term that a member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, then-Rep. Hilda L. Solis, D-Calif., was chosen to lead the Labor Department but that no member of the CBC was even vetted for a Cabinet slot. Rep. Sanford D. Bishop Jr. of Georgia was discussed for Agriculture secretary but not formally vetted.
The CBC’s letters, however, aren’t as much about pushing the particular individuals it is recommending, but part of a broader push for Obama to increase the diversity of his Cabinet — something his most recent picks have lacked.
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.