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Obama Set for First Meeting With Asian Pacific Caucus

Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

President Barack Obama will become the first president to meet with the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus when he sits down with the group for an hourlong meeting at the White House on Friday.

A face-to-face meeting has been in the works since July, when then-CAPAC Chairman Mike Honda told Roll Call that the caucus was unhappy that Obama had yet to make time for it.

“It’s never too late to meet. The president wants to fulfill that step,” the California Democrat said today. “I think he’s always known. When I saw him a couple times prior to this meeting, I said, ‘Mr. President, we’d like to ...’ and he said, ‘I know, we haven’t met yet.’”

In July, the group met with senior administration officials, who committed to an in-person meeting with the president. The two sides had been trying to schedule a date since Congress returned from August recess and finally settled on the 11 a.m. Friday get-together.

“This historic first meeting between the caucus and the President is an important opportunity for our Members and our community. Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders make up an incredibly diverse constituency with significant unmet needs,” CAPAC Chairwoman Judy Chu (D-Calif.) said in a statement.

Though the details are still being worked out, most of the group’s leadership should be able to attend, according to a staffer who handles Asian issues.

But some of those Members, including Reps. Al Green (D-Texas), Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), Bobby Scott (D-Va.) and Hansen Clarke (D-Mich.), are also members of the Congressional Black Caucus, which is holding its annual legislative conference this weekend, so their attendance is in question.

White House spokesman Shin Inouye said the president is eager to meet with the caucus.

“The president looks forward to meeting with members of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus on Friday and having a dialogue about the important issues facing all Americans, including the [Asian-American and Pacific Islander] communities,” he said.

Members of the caucus support Obama’s jobs plan, the House staffer said, and would like to use the meeting to push for some other programs, such as replenishing $88 million in funding for the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Housing Counseling Assistance Program.

The funding was cut in the fiscal 2011 continuing resolution enacted earlier this year. The staffer said the program is helpful to first-generation Asian-Americans who have trouble navigating the housing market.

“There’s a lot of opportunity to work there and to make sure if there are any changes to this bill moving forward [that] it helps all of us in the community who are affected,” the staffer said.

CAPAC also wants to push for disaggregation of data concerning Asians and Pacific Islanders. Highly college-educated immigrants from Korea, for instance, are lumped into the same category as Cambodians, who have a 40 percent high school dropout rate.

“You see the headlines in Time and Newsweek magazines, and it makes it sound like we’re all graduating from the Ivy Leagues,” the staffer said. “When most of the government looks at our community, they try to see us as one bloc, but it can be very detrimental. That’s something that we’re really pushing to have broken down.”

Immigration is also a key issue for the caucus, whose members argue that Asians and Pacific Islanders are not represented in a discussion primarily dominated by Hispanics.

The Congressional Hispanic Caucus has met with the president several times to discuss immigration, most recently in May.

Obama met with the Congressional Black Caucus for the first time in May to discuss job creation.

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