White House Fends Off Criticism from Congressional Black Caucus
December 9, 2009 - 6:04 PMThe White House fended off criticism on Wednesday from an unlikely source, the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), as members of the group expressed disappointment in President Barack Obama's speech on Tuesday about the economy.
In a statement, CBC chairwoman Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) said: “As a candidate, President Obama said in his speech on race during the Democratic primary, ‘Race is an issue that I believe this nation cannot afford to ignore right now.’ The facts speak for themselves. …The Congressional Black Caucus is committed to working with President Obama to address the needs of those who are hurting most and to ensure that existing disparities don't grow wider.”
Lee further said: “The Congressional Black Caucus recognizes that behind virtually every economic indicator you will find gross racial disparities.”
Particularly critical of Obama, the country’s first black president, have been Reps. Maxine Waters of California and John Conyers of Michigan, both Democrats.
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said the president’s economic agenda outlined on Tuesday, which included tax breaks for job creation and using money paid back from last year’s corporate bailout loans for job creation, will benefit everyone.
“The ideas the president outlined with some specificity don’t represent the totality of all the president would like to see obviously,” Gibbs told reporters. “This was discussed in that larger meeting that we need to expand safety nets in terms of unemployment insurance. The president discussed increased exports, as well as continued aid to states and localities. There may be other targeted ideas the administration will work with between now and maybe even the beginning of the year.”
When a reporter asked, “Maxine Waters said he doesn’t pick up the phone and call members, does that bother the president?” Gibbs said, “I don’t think it’s true.”
For his part, Conyers criticized Obama during a radio interview on the Bill Press Show.
“I’m getting tired of saving Obama’s can in the White House,” Conyers told Press. “I mean, he only won [the health care vote] by five votes in the House, and this bill wasn’t anything to write home about. The public option is only available, which is the only way you manage cost and get some competition to 1,300 other health insurance companies, the only way he could have got that through is that progressives held their nose and voted for it anyway.”
The Hill reported Tuesday that Obama recently called Conyers “to express his frustrations with the Judiciary Committee chairman’s criticism.” Conyers told The Hill that, several weeks ago, the president “called me and told me that he heard that I was demeaning him and I had to explain to him that it wasn’t anything personal, it was an honest difference on the issues. And he said, ‘Well, let’s talk about it.’”
Gibbs had little to say specifically on the matter.
“I think the president has respect for Congressman Conyers,” said Gibbs. “I don’t know the exact words the president used. I think the president believed the criticism was untrue. Suffice to say, he reached out and touched someone."