During his time as the first black president in the White House, President Obama has occasionally been criticized by a group he once belonged to as a U.S. senator, the Congressional Black Caucus, for not doing more to ameliorate the difficult lives of many African Americans.
But Rep. Marcia Fudge, an Ohio Democrat who was elected in November to head the CBC, doesn’t see why criticism should be surprising. In a Thursday interview with NPR’s Michel Martin, host of Tell Me More, Fudge said the CBC has often found itself at odds with presidents; Obama is no different.
Meanwhile, because of the solid support that black voters have shown the Democratic Party, African Americans as represented by the CBC and others, not only had earned the right to criticize but to be inside the rooms where decisions are made.
“We have been critical and disagreed with almost every president on some issue…” Fudge said. “I think that there is not any group of people in this country who do not believe that they should be a part of the process.
“We want a seat at the table just as everyone else and we believe we deserve a seat at the table…,” she continued. “We are voting in higher numbers than we ever have. We are a political power base in this country. We are one of the most loyal groups of people to the Democratic Party and we believe we should be involved in the process.
“I am certainly pleased that the President has appointed both Mel Watt [a CBC member who Obama nominated to oversee mortgage lenders Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac] and to the cabinet Mayor [Anthony] Foxx [of Charlotte]. I believe they are both highly qualified. I certainly do hope that they will be confirmed but we are always going to have issues that are different than what the president wants, whoever the president may be.”
In another part of the discussion in which Michel and Fudge discussed congressional immigration efforts, Fudge made a point that could have far-reaching implications if and when an immigration bill moves through the House. (The Senate Judiciary Committee earlier this week passed legislation largely resembling that created by a bipartisan group of eight senators known as the Gang of Eight.)
Fudge conveyed the CBC’s concern with the Senate bill provision, supported by the high-tech industry, to expand the H-1B visa program to allow into the U.S. higher numbers of highly skilled immigrants to fill jobs for which companies in Silicon Valley and beyond say there aren’t enough qualified U.S. workers.
The CBC worries that making more of those visas available will have an adverse impact on blacks aspiring to such jobs.
Any House immigration legislation similar to the Senate’s is likely to need the votes of Democrats since it’s expected that many Republicans won’t vote for a bill with a path to citizenship for immigrants now in the U.S. illegally. That means the votes of the 42 members of the CBC take on greater importance.
“We are concerned about how we build capacity within this country,” Fudge told Michel. “When you talk about H-1B visas or high-skilled visas, we know for a fact that in this country there are African Americans who are already prepared to do this work.
“We know that [historically black colleges and universities] graduate more people in science, technology, engineering, and math than almost any other collective group of schools. We want our people not only to have these jobs but to build capacity, K through 12, to prepare young people for these jobs. But if you say you’re going to have as many as 100,000 high-skilled visas come into this country every year, then that is saying to my children, ‘You know what? Don’t even go into that field because there’s not going to be a place for you.’ “
How this particular issue plays out in the House, especially given the CBC’s position, is a key issue to keep an eye on.