Black caucus ready to flex political muscle

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The Congressional Black Caucus today will announce its leadership team and agenda for the 110th Congress with Rep. Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick, the group’s chairman, expected to refocus on urban and poverty issues.

The Michigan Democrat, whose son Kwame Kilpatrick is mayor of Detroit, could be one of the most effective CBC chairman in 20 years because many caucus members are likely to lead key House committees — Judiciary, Homeland Security, Administration, and Ways and Means.

Almost every piece of legislation that Democrats bring to the House floor will have to pass the approval of a CBC member. The group, composed of Democrats, also will benefit from almost 17 subcommittee chairmanships and former CBC Chairman James E. Clyburn, South Carolina Democrat, as the House majority whip.

“The black caucus has an opportunity to raise the ante on its label as ‘the conscience of the Congress’ and will have the strength to deal with poverty issues; developing a better, more friendly relationship with Africa; criminal-justice issues; and the overwhelming work to be done in the Gulf region,” said Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee, Texas Democrat, who is expected to be elected as CBC whip.

Reps. Barbara Lee of California and Emanuel Cleaver II of Missouri will serve as the vice chairmen, and Rep. Danny K. Davis of Illinois, will be the secretary, said staffers and members who spoke with The Washington Times yesterday.

Mr. Cleaver said his top priority will be to push for an end to state election laws that require voters to present state-issued identification to vote, an issue that will be taken up by his CBC colleague, the next chairman of the House Administration Committee, Rep. Juanita Millender-McDonald of California.

“Congressman Ike Skelton who lives in my metropolitan area couldn’t vote because he showed up at the polls and didn’t have a driver’s license — Ike has polio and can’t use his arms and has no need for a license,” Mr. Cleaver said, adding, “That kind of foolishness has to stop.”

He said the public should expect the CBC leaders to move Democrats to address several issues, such as police misconduct, HIV/AIDS, mandatory minimum jail sentences and other issues that have been “ignored now for decades.”

Mr. Cleaver said he soon expects the group to announce its legislative agenda for the first 100 hours of Congress to go in tandem with the issues House Speaker-elect Nancy Pelosi of California has said will be done in that time.

The agenda is not likely to change much under the new leadership because almost every caucus member supported the agenda of the outgoing chairman, Rep. Melvin Watt, North Carolina Democrat, to end racial disparities in access to education, employment, incarceration rates and health care.

“He has created a wonderful platform for them and they are well-positioned to address issues that in many instances are considered privileges to some but for us in the CBC we consider civil rights,” said Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, Maryland Democrat and a past CBC chairman.

However, both he and Mr. Watt said the black caucus would be only as strong as its bonds with the leadership and the congressional Hispanic and Asian and Pacific Islander caucuses.

Mr. Cummings said that when he was chairman, the agendas of the black and Hispanic caucuses were identical with the exception of immigration.

“It was not on our core agenda when it started to gain resonance in the public debate, because it wasn’t something that we really had to deal with,” Mr. Watt said.

He said the group in the past year decided to work toward a common set of principles on immigration policy with the other minority caucuses that he expects the new leadership to advance.

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