- The Washington Times - Friday, March 30, 2001

A group of 120 black Republican business, academic and political leaders responded warmly yesterday to President Bush's promise to "constantly speak for the values that unite our country."

Citing such "common values" as "personal responsibility, equal justice [and] equal opportunity for everybody," Mr. Bush told the group, which met at the White House, that education reform is "the number-one priority of this administration for a reason because when we get it right, when every child learns, American will be a much more hopeful place."

He repeated his pledge, offered during the fall campaign, that "literacy … is the new civil right."

The president urged support of his "common-sense" budget, approved Wednesday by the House, and his proposals to cut taxes.

"He's different," said Roy Innis, national chairman of the Congress of Racial Equality, after the meeting broke up. "I don't think it's just rhetoric. I think he understands more than other presidents that you have to demonstrate the empathy you have, but at the same time he will not patronize people and play to their prejudices the way Bill Clinton did."

Lt. Gov. Joe Rogers of Colorado, the highest-ranking black elected state official in the nation, agreed. "The mood was jovial, the spirits were high, and we gave him warm congratulations just to let him know we were proud of him and his efforts." Others at the meeting included Education Secretary Rod Paige, Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Mel Martinez and Rep. J.C. Watts Jr. of Oklahoma.

Mr. Bush drew applause when he declared, as he had earlier, that "racial profiling is wrong." He said he had asked Attorney General John Ashcroft to come up with a plan to end the practice of targeting minorities for special scrutiny by police. "But what government cannot do is cause people to love one another I wish we could." He drew laughs when he suggested that Mr. Watts, an ordained Baptist minister, might sponsor such a bill.

"But love comes as a result of a higher calling, in many cases," the president said. "Love comes from hearts, and our job in America is to gather the great compassion of America."

The president took note of two of his chief foreign policy advisers who are black, though he did not call attention to their race. "I was today with the chancellor of Germany, and I was at the Oval Office there in the little dining room, and sitting next to me were [Secretary of State] Colin Powell and [National Security Adviser] Condoleezza Rice as we were effecting foreign policy that affects the world."

In convening one of his largest meetings with black leaders since becoming president, Mr. Bush indicated that he is ignoring advice that he pay attention to Hispanics and other minorities at the expense of blacks, since despite his efforts to attract blacks they voted 9-1 for Al Gore, the Democratic candidate, in November.

Mr. Rogers said he meet with the president and 14 other black Republican leaders for a half-hour before joining the others for the longer session in the Old Executive Office Building.

"Every president, whatever his party, is judged not only by the words he speaks, but more importantly, by the work he leaves behind," Mr. Bush told the leaders. "And that's what I hope my administration is judged on by the work we leave behind."

"This is part of an ongoing series of meetings the president is having in order to reach out to African-American leaders," said White House spokesman Scott McClellan.

Mr. Bush devoted a considerable portion of his afternoon to the meeting. Mr. Rogers said he and the other black leaders who included a few Democrats "in particular were proud of [Mr. Bush] when he told his attorney general he wanted to see an end to racial profiling in the United States."

"That's a significant issue for people around the country," Mr. Rogers said.

Mr. Innis said the group particularly liked yesterday's format, "where the Cabinet secretaries took the time to address us in detail" about administration initiatives "and then they introduced the president," who talked more generally about his programs and ideas.

"The one thing he didn't discuss was 2002," Mr. Innis said. "If Republicans don't hold on to the House, his programs could be doomed to failure, so I hope he calls us back to discuss how we can help with the elections next year."

Mr. Innis said his group and other Republican or conservative-leaning organizations "couldn't raise the money to rebut the millions of dollars in ads that the NAACP spent in attacking Bush" in the November elections.

Among those attending were Harry Alfred, president of the National Black Chamber of Commerce; Eddie Slaughter, vice president of the National Association of Black Farmers and Agriculturists; Alveda King, the niece of Martin Luther King; Ken Blackwell, the Republican secretary of state of Ohio; Kenny Gamble, president of Universal Studios; William Gray III, president of the United Negro College Fund, Earnest Holloway, president of Langston University in Oklahoma City; Robert Woodson, president of the National Center for Neighborhood Enterprise and syndicated columnist Armstrong Williams.


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