The White House yesterday said President Bush “defied the stereotype of Republicans” by meeting with black leaders who said his policies are attracting more black voters.
“I am a Democrat who supports the president for three reasons — his commitment to Africa, Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice,” said the Rev. Eugene Rivers after the 40-minute meeting.
Addressing reporters in the White House driveway, Mr. Rivers said the president has “produced more diversity at that level of government than any preceding Democratic administration and, interestingly enough, for which he’s got no credit.”
Mr. Rivers, president of the Seymour Institute in Boston, pointed out that Mr. Bush twice chose blacks to fill the position of secretary of state — Mr. Powell in his first term and Miss Rice in his second. Mr. Rivers was particularly impressed with the Rice appointment.
“What I am thankful about is that a black woman was put in as secretary of state,” he said. “Liberals in particular have not been willing to accord the president the credit he needs for that revolutionary appointment.”
Mr. Rivers was one of 20 religious, civic and corporate leaders who huddled in the White House with the president, Miss Rice and other administration officials.
Presidential assistant Jim Towey said Mr. Bush’s ongoing practice of meeting with black leaders has “defied the stereotype of Republicans.” But he insisted the president did not overtly seek the political support of blacks.
“He is trying to keep the politics out of it, but in this town, that’s not easy,” said Mr. Towey, who runs the White House office on faith-based initiatives. “Our office is not about the politics. It’s about the compassion.”
Yet also present at yesterday’s meeting was Karl Rove, the president’s senior political adviser. And several participants said Mr. Bush’s implicit message was that blacks benefit from Republican policies.
For example, the president announced yesterday that he would hold a summit in March to convince corporations and charitable foundations to relax restrictions on funding of black churches. He also explained his decision to spend billions fighting disease in Africa.
“I’m convinced that you’re genuinely committed to Africa,” Leonard H. Robinson Jr., president of Africa Summit, said he told the president in yesterday’s session.
Mr. Robinson later told The Washington Times that Mr. Bush recently delivered “the most powerful speech any American president has ever made on U.S. commitment and interest vis-a-vis Africa.” The president’s follow-up speech in Scotland “moved me to tears,” he added.
Mr. Robinson, like Mr. Rivers, complained that the president is not given sufficient credit for policies that benefit blacks.
“It’s not covered in the news media,” he said. “Unless the American people are told what’s happening, then there’s no political gain to be made out of it.”
Mr. Bush garnered just 9 percent of the black vote in 2000, but increased that margin to 11 percent in 2004. An aggressive effort to increase black support even further is being waged by Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman.
Mr. Mehlman will continue that effort this afternoon by addressing an audience of 3,500 at the African Methodist Episcopal Church convention in Houston. He is expected to ask members to give the Republican Party a fresh look, echoing similar outreach efforts by the president.
“He’s always saying, ‘Put us to the test. Examine us. Examine our policies,’” said Ben Kinchlow, one of the leaders who met with Mr. Bush yesterday.
“His policies can benefit the African-American community,” added Mr. Kinchlow of the African-American Political Awareness Coalition. “So they should, consequently, examine his policies.”