- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 18, 2003

The Congressional Black Caucus and their spouses will be in downtown Washington next week. It will be time for what they call their Annual Legislative Conference. Like most professional conventions, there are forums and shakedowns, and lots of wining and dining. The caucus also host a fantabulous show of fashions, clothing the average working woman cannot afford (but at least the fashion show is a college-scholarship fund-raiser). As for style vs. substance, the former is a sure thing, while the latter means the caucus will be preaching to the choir.

Using the politics of its chairman and membership as indicators, the CBC’s 33rd Legislative Conference will be predictably divisive, with plenty of Bush bashing. Applause meters will not be necessary at this gathering of flashy, smiling Dems — Al, Jesse and Carol will surely be there. And no one in the crowd would be surprised if Bill — Clinton, that is — showed his face in the place.

Do not expect the sitting president to make an appearance, though. CBC Chairman Elijah Cummings had the gall this summer to flat out reject an invitation from President Bush for a meeting at the White House. The president extended the invitation after returning from Africa. Mr. Cummings, Maryland Democrat, told the president thanks but no thanks. Why? “Mr. President, I need not remind you that the CBC’s requests for meetings with you have gone unanswered for more than two-and-one-half years. As a result, you and your administration have had less opportunity to receive the expertise, wisdom and insights of our 39 members,” Mr. Cummings wrote in his July 16 letter, which listed such issues as Iraq, unemployment and “our bilateral relationships with African nations.”

Indeed. The president need not remind Mr. Cummings that he and his administration hardly lack the “expertise, wisdom and insights” of the caucus’ 39 members. To the contrary, the most senior and vocal members — whose entire membership is Democratic — always wear their partisanship with winks and smiles. When Bill Clinton sought congressional support to battle Saddam Hussein in 1998, for example, the majority of the CBC said, “Go ahead, Bill, with our blessings.” When George W. Bush sought the same, however, the winks and smiles turned into sneers and jeers.

The caucus’ sponsorship of last week’s Democratic presidential debate in Baltimore is another example. Mr. Cummings and the other caucus members knew that a crucial vote on a school-voucher proposal was scheduled for the same evening as the debate. What did they do? Did they forsake hanging out with the choir in Baltimore to tend to America’s business on Capitol Hill? Of course not. They listened to the hallelujah chorus of Democratic candidates and then did their own GOP-bashing the following day, accusing the Republican-led House of playing partisan politics. (Methinks they are jealous, especially since they didn’t criticize attendees Dick Gephardt and Dennis Kucinich.)

While the black caucus parties without a purpose, Republicans will be honoring the Bush administration’s black appointees, including Alphonso Jackson, Rod Paige, Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice. The timing of the event is coincidental (wink, wink), and I’m certain some folks will think it’s at once discriminatory and patronizing. Perhaps. Consider this, however. Neither the exclusive Democratic club known as the Congressional Black Caucus nor any of its 39 members has extended an invitation to President Bush. “We’ve invited the president to meet with us on more than a half-dozen occasions, but he has declined or he has ignored us,” CBC spokesman Doug Thornell said the other day.

Hmm. Let’s recap. The Congressional Black Caucus holds a party every year called a legislative weekend. Each year, those lawmakers chat, wine and dine with each other and other powerbrokers. Mr. Cummings, who is chairman of this group, is a racial and political minority on Capitol Hill. He is planning this year’s party. Mr. Bush, titular head of the party in power, invites Mr. Cummings to sit and chat in the Great House. Mr. Cummings declines. Mr. Cummings also declines to invite Mr. Bush to his party.

You’ve got to give it to the Republicans. They aren’t hiding behind a tax-exempt organization, unlike the black Democrats, who shield their partisan partying behind the tax-exempt status of the CBC Foundation Inc. and call their party a legislative conference. Mr. Cummings and the CBC should be ashamed.

Mr. Bush need not worry. He won’t miss anything of substance.

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