Black lawmakers pressed President Obama on Tuesday to ensure that immigration reform doesn't shortchange African immigrants, and they strategized about ways to protect minority voting rights in the wake of the Supreme Court's ruling that struck down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act.
The Congressional Black Caucus met with Mr. Obama at the White House for about 90 minutes, their first gathering with the president in more than two years. Although some caucus members have been critical of Mr. Obama for not doing enough to lower black unemployment and appointing too few blacks to his Cabinet, they emerged from the meeting with words of praise for the president.
"We are on the same page," said Rep. Marcia L. Fudge, Ohio Democrat and CBC chairwoman.
Ms. Fudge said immigration reform legislation in Congress was a topic of concern at the meeting. The CBC and others say the Senate-passed immigration bill could lead to lower immigration from countries with high black populations.
"We want to be sure that the immigration bill, which they're saying is comprehensive, is in fact comprehensive," Ms. Fudge said, "and that it includes people from the Caribbean and from Africa."
She expressed concern that the Senate immigration bill will favor merit-based visas for high-skilled workers at the expense of "diversity visas."
"We want to be sure that the people we represent, those who come from underserved countries, poorer countries, are included in the bill," Ms. Fudge said.
The bill would replace a lottery system with by a merit-based formula that gives more points to applicants with higher academic degrees. Some say the new merit-based system would reduce the number of African immigrants.
The House has yet to take up comprehensive immigration reform; Mr. Obama has urged House lawmakers to complete a bill before the congressional August recess.
Black lawmakers also talked with Mr. Obama about protecting minority voting rights in light of the Supreme Court ruling, which voided a provision requiring certain states and localities with a history of voting-rights abuses to get pre-clearance from the federal government before making any changes to voting laws.
Ms. Fudge said the lawmakers "talked about how we strengthen Section 2" and ways to determine a "formula" that would cover all states, as opposed to a state-by-state procedure. Rep. Chaka Fattah, Pennsylvania Democrat, said they discussed several ideas on how to respond to the ruling, but reached no consensus.
"Other than the fact that there's a certainty we're going to seek to address it, I don't think there's any decision about how to proceed," Mr. Fattah said.
With black unemployment at 13.7 percent in June, compared to the national average of 7.6 percent, several lawmakers urged Mr. Obama to send more federal money to their districts. Rep. James E. Clyburn, South Carolina Democrat, revived the idea of a formula that would direct more federal dollars to communities with persistent poverty, the so-called 10-20-30 formula.
"It can be education," Mr. Clyburn said. "It can be broadband deployment. It can be water and sewage development. Whatever you are doing to improve communities making sure it gets to communities of need. And it creates jobs dramatically."
Ms. Fudge said the president "was receptive to that formula."
The lawmakers also discussed with Mr. Obama the need to lower interest rates on student loans. Rates on federal Stafford loans doubled on July 1 to 6.8 percent because Congress didn't avert a rate hike built into the law.
House Republicans have passed a bill that would link rates to the financial markets and keep rates low in coming years. But Senate Democrats opposed to the GOP plan haven't found enough support to surmount procedural hurdles. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, said he will bring up the issue for a test vote again on Wednesday.
Mr. Clyburn said he told the president that the high cost of student loans is "very, very serious for us."
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