02-19-2017  1:11 pm      •     

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – The 41-member Congressional Black Caucus, which often describes itself as the "conscience of the Congress," is anticipating a power surge next week as one of its former members takes the oath of office as president of the United States.
"As I stand here today, I can tell you with certainty that these 41 members of the Congressional Black Caucus recognizes that this is our moment," said U. S. Rep. Barbara Lee, the new chairwoman of the 40-year-old caucus at the group's ceremonial swearing in last week.
Recalling the mission of the 13 founding members of the CBC as being "to achieve greater equity for persons of African decent," Lee, of California, told the audience of hundreds in the new Capitol Visitors Center, "As we change the course of our country, and as we confront the economy, and as we continue moving forward, we will continue their legacy in working day and night to make this a better and more secure world for our children."
Then U. S. Sen. Barack Obama served as a member of the Congressional Black Caucus with a consistent record of 100 percent on the NAACP Civil Rights report card. But it is often said that he must now govern the nation as a president - not as a "Black president."
Agreeing, members of the CBC interviewed by the NNPA News Service at a reception following the Jan. 6 swearing in, said as they push legislation to improve the plight of Blacks in America, they will be emboldened by the support of the president – because of his principles, not because of his race.
"It challenges the Congressional Black Caucus because now more than ever, America will recognize that there are three branches of government, the executive, the judicial and the legislative, the legislature being the initiator of ideas," says Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-Texas). "It will be very good to compliment the leadership of President Obama to have ideas coming from the Caucus - ideas and solutions to problems, working on the dream that is still a work in progress."
For too long have certain tenets of American democracy, such as "freedom and justice for all" been recited, but not fully realized, says Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.). He ticked off a list of issues that will need immediate attention.
"Health care, jobs, education…getting serious about reducing crime. We have a lot of work to do and we look forward to working with President Obama and we will work enthusiastically to solve these problems," says Scott.
Black political observers will also watch closely to see what will happen with legislation on predatory lending, police profiling and misconduct, sentencing disparities, affirmative action, and other areas of public policy that have largely remained stagnant.
The CBC was founded in January of 1969 when 13 African-American representatives of the 77th Congress formed the Democratic Select Committee. The committee was renamed the Congressional Black Caucus in 1971. Founding members of the CBC were Reps. Shirley Chisholm (N.Y.), William Clay (Mo.), George Collins (Ill.), John Conyers (Mich.), Ronald Dellums (Calif.), Charles Diggs (Mich.), Augustus Hawkins (Calif.), Ralph Metcalfe (Ill.), Parren Mitchell (Md.), Robert Nix (Pa.), Charles Rangel (N.Y.), Louis Stokes (Ohio), and Delegate Walter Fauntroy (D.C.).
Forty years later, two of the CBC founding members are chairing two of the most powerful committees in Congress. Rep. John Conyers, known as the "dean" of the CBC, chairs the House Judiciary Committee and Rep. Charlie Rangel chairs the House Ways and Means Committee. Two other CBC members chair House committees. They are Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) of the Homeland Security Committee and Edolphus Towns, who chairs the House Oversight Committee. In addition, there are 15 subcommittee chairs who are CBC members.
U. S. Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.), the House majority whip, is currently the highest ranking African-American in Congress.
The growing power of the CBC is clearly bolstered by Democratic majorities in both houses.
"This will be an outstanding year in the history of our great nation," Clyburn told the audience at the swearing in. He introduced House Speaker Nancy Pelosi as a "strong, steely petite woman".
Pelosi told the Caucus, "Here we are in this incredible, incredible time. With all the good work, all of the inspiration, all of the volition, leading the challenge with much work undone, laying the foundation for two weeks, Barack Obama for president of the United States."
The audience burst into applause. 
"This is a great opportunity and I think we'll take advantage of it," said Rep. Al Green (D-Texas) at the reception.
Rep. G. K. Butterfield (D-N.C.), newly elected CBC secretary, was emphatic: "The CBC has the tremendous responsibility to expose and confront the disparities that hurt our community," Butterfield said in a statement. "With a solid Democratic majority and a powerful ally occupying The White House, the African-American community can expect us to be relentless in our effort to empower our community."

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  • WASHINGTON (AP) — One month after the inauguration, the stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue in front of Donald Trump's White House still is a hard-hat zone. Skeletal remains of the inaugural reviewing stands poke skyward. Random piles of plywood and cables are heaped on the ground inside crooked lines of metal fencing. The disarray outside the president's front door, though not his fault, serves as a metaphor for the tumult still unfolding inside. Four weeks in, the man who says he inherited "a mess" at home and abroad is presiding over a White House that is widely described as itself being a mess. At a stunning pace, Trump has riled world leaders and frustrated allies. He was dealt a bruising legal blow on one of his signature policies. He lost his national security adviser and his pick for labor secretary to scandal. He's seen forces within his government push back against his policies and leak confidential information. All of this has played out amid a steady drip of revelations about an FBI investigation into his campaign's contacts with Russian intelligence officials. Trump says his administration is running like a "fine-tuned machine." He points to the rising stock market and the devotion of his still-loyal supporters as evidence that all is well, although his job approval rating is much lower than that for prior presidents in their first weeks in office. Stung by the unrelenting criticism coming his way, Trump dismisses much of it as "fake news" delivered by "the enemy of the people" — aka the press. Daily denunciations of the media are just one of the new White House fixtures Americans are adjusting to. Most days start (and end) with presidential tweets riffing off of whatever's on TV talk shows or teasing coming events or hurling insults at the media. At some point in the day, count on Trump to cast back to the marvels of his upset of Democrat Hillary Clinton in the November election and quite possibly overstate his margins of support. Expect more denunciations of the "dishonest" press and its "fake news." From there, things can veer in unexpected directions as Trump offers up policy pronouncements or offhand remarks that leave even White House aides struggling to interpret them. The long-standing U.S. policy of seeking a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Trump this past week offered this cryptic pronouncement: "I'm looking at two-state and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like. I can live with either one." His U.N. ambassador, Nikki Haley, the next day insisted, "We absolutely support a two-state solution." Trump's days are busy. Outside groups troop in for "listening sessions." Foreign leaders call or come to visit. (Or, in the case of Mexico's president, cancel out in pique over Trump's talk about the planned border wall.) After the president signed two dozen executive actions, the White House was awaiting a rush order of more of the gold-plated Cross pens that Trump prefers to the chrome-plated ones used by his predecessor. Trump hands them out as souvenirs at the signing ceremonies that he points to as evidence of his ambitious pace. "This last month has represented an unprecedented degree of action on behalf of the great citizens of our country," Trump said at a Thursday news conference. "Again, I say it. There has never been a presidency that's done so much in such a short period of time." That's all music to the ears of his followers, who sent him to Washington to upend the established order and play the role of disrupter. "I can't believe there's actually a politician doing what he says he would do," says an approving Scott Hiltgen, a 66-year-old office furniture sales broker from River Falls, Wisconsin. "That never happens." Disrupt Trump has. But there may be more sound and fury than substance to many of his early actions. Trump did select Judge Neil Gorsuch to replace the late Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court, a nomination that has drawn strong reviews from conservatives. But the president is regrouping on immigration after federal judges blocked his order to suspend the United States' refugee program and ban visitors from seven Muslim-majority countries, which had caused chaos for travelers around the globe. Some other orders on issues such as the U.S.-Mexico border wall and former President Barack Obama's health care law are of limited effect. Trump says his early actions show he means to deliver on the promises he made during the campaign. "A lot of people say, 'Oh, oh, Trump was only kidding with the wall,'" the president told a group of police chiefs recently. "I wasn't kidding. I don't kid." But the Republican-led Congress is still waiting to see specifics on how Trump wants to proceed legislatively on top initiatives such as replacing the health care law, enacting tax cuts and revising trade deals. The messy rollout of the travel ban and tumult over the ouster of national security adviser Michael Flynn for misrepresenting his contacts with Russia are part of a broader state of disarray as different figures in Trump's White House jockey for power and leaks reveal internal discord in the machinations of the presidency. "I thought by now you'd at least hear the outlines of domestic legislation like tax cuts," says Princeton historian Julian Zelizer. "But a lot of that has slowed. Trump shouldn't mistake the fact that some of his supporters like his style with the fact that a lot of Republicans just want the policies he promised them. He has to deliver that." Put Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., in the camp of those more interested in substance than style. "I'm not a great fan of daily tweets," McConnell said Friday, referring to the "extra discussion" that Trump likes to engage in. But McConnell was quick to add: "What I am a fan of is what he's been actually doing." He credits Trump with assembling a conservative Cabinet and taking steps to reduce government regulation, and promised: "We like his positions and we're going to pursue them as vigorously as we can." The challenge may be to tease out exactly what Trump wants in the way of a health care plan, tax changes and trade policy. At his long and defiant news conference on Thursday, Trump tried to dispel the impression of a White House in crisis, squarely blaming the press for keeping him from moving forward more decisively on his agenda. Pointing to his chief of staff, Reince Priebus, Trump said, "You take a look at Reince, he's working so hard just putting out fires that are fake fires. I mean, they're fake. They're not true. And isn't that a shame because he'd rather be working on health care, he'd rather be working on tax reform." For all the frustrations of his early days as president, Trump still seems tickled by the trappings of his office. When New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie visited the White House last week to discuss the national opioid epidemic over lunch, the governor said Trump informed him: "Chris, you and I are going to have the meatloaf.'" Trump added: "I'm telling you, the meatloaf is fabulous." ___Follow Nancy Benac on Twitter at http://twitter.com/nbenac
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