Black lawmakers press Biden on agenda at White House meeting
The Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) met with President Biden at the White House Tuesday seeking to win progress on its legislative agenda.
The meeting comes as race in America dominates the country’s attention, with the troubling rise of Asian American hate and fierce national pushback against another Black man being shot and killed by police in a Minneapolis suburb on Sunday.
Nearly a dozen caucus members were present, including caucus Chairwoman Joyce Beatty (D-Ohio), House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.), Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) as well as Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.). Vice President Harris and White House senior adviser Cedric Richmond — both caucus alums — were also in attendance.
"We're in the business, all of us meeting today, to deliver some real change,” Biden told reporters from the Oval Office before the meeting. “Every single aspect of our government including every agency has a primary focus of dealing with equity. It’s not a joke.”
Biden also signaled that economic advancement as well as his ambitious infrastructure plan would be on the list of topics discussed.
Outside of the White House after the meeting, Beatty said that it had been an “amazing meeting.”
“We were able to share our thoughts and ideas but we also came because we know there will be challenges,” Beatty said, noting that it’s been a “tough week” for members of the caucus.
At 57 members strong, the half-century-old caucus is the largest it's ever been. It began the session with 58 members, but decreased with the passing of longtime Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.) last week.
Many of the CBC’s legislative priorities are issues that have become relevant for the whole country.
For example, the caucus heavily supports the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, the sweeping police reform bill that passed the House at the beginning of March, but faces stiff opposition in the Senate.
Before going into the meeting, the president also briefly addressed the death of Daunte Wright, the 20-year-old Black man, who was shot and killed by police during a traffic stop in Brooklyn Center, Minn., on Sunday afternoon.
Biden described what happened as “god awful,” adding that there was “a lot” he could deliver on in regards to how law enforcement interacts with and polices Black communities.
The president made a bold promise shortly after Election Day that he would have Black Americans’ backs while in the White House. Both Black lawmakers and activists are intent on holding him to his word.
The rollout of its legislative agenda also included the creation of an internal domestic policy leadership team with policy co-chairs that will oversee caucus committees on issues most important to Black communities.
The caucus brought these priorities up at the post-meeting press conference. Beatty said that the battle to get other things accomplished begins with shoring up voting rights.
“If we don’t get provisions in place, if we don’t protect this democracy, then none of what we’re talking about can happen,” she said.
Democrats and corporations have thrashed the Republican-controlled state legislature in Georgia in recent weeks for passing legislation that rolls back expanded voting rights that were put in place during the last election cycle because of the pandemic.
Equitable vaccine distribution to communities of color that have been hardest hit by COVID-19 is another priority for the CBC, and something that has been an uphill battle for the Biden administration.
Beatty noted that hesitancy over getting the vaccine — a factor that was initially believed to be a big roadblock to getting Black communities vaccinated, in particular — is not the main reason why rates of vaccinations in Black communities continue to lag across the country.
“It’s transportation, it’s distribution and access,” she said. “We want to dispel this whole idea of hesitancy. People should get out and get vaccinated.”