With Republicans in control of Congress, members of the Congressional Black Caucus met with President Obama at the White House earlier this week for a strategizing session during which the president promised to work with caucus members to lift more people out of poverty and to institute reforms in the criminal justice system that will stem the nation’s ridiculously high incarceration rate.
The expectations are extremely low for the president and the caucus to get anything of significance through Congress in this legislative environment, which is why the caucus asked the president to use legislative action. Poverty and criminal justice reform are two areas in which many people in the Black community have been disappointed that there hasn’t been more progress during the Obama administration.
CBC chairman Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.), in a press conference after the meeting, said the caucus members asked Obama to use executive action to help the members send federal funds to nearly 500 U.S. counties with persistent poverty rates of 20 percent or more that has maintained for 30 years or more.
“He told us that he fully understands the challenges that we face and he’s willing to work with us and find creative ways to address poverty in these communities. We were very pleased with his response,” Butterfield said.
In the area of criminal justice reform, the chairman said they had “a very robust conversation.”
“Not only about police misconduct and prosecutorial misconduct, but the need to reform the whole criminal justice system and to try to find creative ways of reducing the incarceration rate,” Butterfield said.
Butterfield said they emphasized that “body cameras are not going to get the job done.” We need “ways of getting better officers on the street…with community policing and sensitivity training.”
Butterfield said the president “gets it” and pledged that U.S. attorney general-nominee Loretta Lynch will work with the lawmakers to reach these goals—if she can get through her Senate confirmation.
“President Obama has 23 more months in office and the CBC is committed to making sure he can finish strong on behalf of the communities we represent and on behalf of the nation,” New York Congressman Hakeem Jeffries said during an appearance on News One Now. “Although the economy has improved significantly under this president, it still has a ways to go. African-American unemployment numbers are still disproportionately high.”
Rep. Gwen Moore of Wisconsin said New Jersey Senator Cory Booker was present at the meeting and that Booker has been working on criminal justice reform in the Senate with Republicans who realize that the astronomical incarceration rate is “busting the budget.”
The Voting Rights Act, the state of HBCUs, federal student loans and the economic recovery were among the additional topics that the caucus discussed with the Obama, according to Butterfield, who said they impressed upon the president that while the recovery is “indisputable, Black America continues to be in a state of emergency.”