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CBC's Fudge Escalates Push for Obama Cabinet Diversity

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo

Congressional Black Caucus Chairwoman Marcia L. Fudge is escalating her campaign to urge President Barack Obama to pick African-Americans for his Cabinet, publicly releasing a letter that slams the first black president for a lack of diversity among his closest advisers.

“The people you have chosen to appoint in this new term have hardly been reflective of this country’s diversity,” the Ohio Democrat said in the March 11 letter.

Fudge adds that CBC members’ offices have received phone calls from angry constituents questioning why Obama hasn’t nominated anyone with the ability “to speak to the unique needs of African Americans. Their ire is compounded by the overwhelming support you’ve received from the African American community.”

By releasing the letter, Fudge is escalating a campaign by the CBC to push Obama on his Cabinet diversity and continuing to demonstrate her willingness to push Obama aggressively to embrace her group’s priorities.

The Ohio Democrat previously moved to promote three CBC members for open Cabinet positions, highlighting a long-standing sore spot in the relationship between the CBC and the president, who was a member of the group during his one Senate term.

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.

White House officials have assured CBC leaders that they will be pleased with future decisions. But Fudge apparently has lost patience, hence the letter Monday.

In the letter to Obama, Fudge said the CBC “looks forward to meeting with you to discuss this and other pressing issues.” CBC spokeswoman Ayofemi Kirby said a meeting with Obama has been requested, but no answer has yet come back from the White House.

“The President is deeply committed to diversity in his cabinet and ensuring his Administration reflects the breadth of our country,” a White House official said in a statement responding to Fudge’s letter. “He believes that the best decisions are made when he is surrounded by people who share different perspectives as we work toward improving our economy and building a strong middle class — together.”

Privately, the relationship between Obama and the CBC 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.

The rift over Obama’s Cabinet is a case in point. For example, 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.

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