The Congressional Black Caucus: Powerful, Diverse, and Newly Complicated

The Congressional Black Caucus is the largest it has ever been, growing to 57 members this year after a period of steady growth. The 50...


The Congressional Black Caucus is the largest it has ever been, growing to 57 members this year after a period of steady growth. The 50-year-old group, which includes most black members of Congress and is fully Democrats, is also more diverse, reflecting growing pockets of the black electorate: millennials, progressives, suburban voters, those less closely tied to the Democratic Party.

But as a thread of social justice connects one generation to the next, the influx of new members from diverse backgrounds is testing the group’s long-standing traditions in ways that could alter the future of the group. black political power in Washington.

Newcomers, shaped by the Black Lives Matter movement rather than the civil rights era, urge Democrats to go on the offensive regarding race and police, sending an affirmative message on how to reform security public. They are looking for a bolder strategy on voting rights and a greater investment in recruiting and supporting black candidates.

Perhaps more important than any ideological or age divide, however, is the fault line of the politically motivated caucus – between those who made the Democratic establishment work for them and those who had to defeat the establishment to win.

Rep. James E. Clyburn of South Carolina, the House’s most powerful black Democrat and lawmaker, said in an interview that the group has still operated like family. But that family has grown to include people like Rep. Cori Bush of Missouri, an outspoken progressive who defeated a caucus member in a hotly contested primary last year, and Rep. Lauren Underwood of Illinois, whose district is predominantly white.

“There was not a single caucus member when I got there who could have been elected from a congressional district that was only 4% African-American,” Mr. Clyburn, referring to Mrs. Underwood.

“Before, we didn’t have people in caucus who could stand up and say, ‘I know what it’s like to be living in a car or being homeless,'” he told About Mrs. Bush, including Capitol Steps pushed the administration of President Biden to extend a moratorium on evictions.

In interviews, more than 20 people close to the CBC – including several members, their key aides, and other Democrats who have worked with the group – described the changing dynamics of the main organization of black power actors in Washington.

The caucus is an integral part of the Democratic establishment, close to the leadership of the House and the relational world of council and political campaigns. However, unlike other groups linked to party leaders, the caucus is perhaps the country’s most public coalition of civil rights pillars, seemingly responsible for ensuring that an insider game shaped by whiteness can work for black people.

Today the CBC has swelled its ranks and a president has said he owes his election to black Democrats. Chances are, when President Nancy Pelosi steps down, her successor will be a member of the group. At the same time, the new lawmakers and their supporters challenge the group with a simple question: who should the Congressional Black Caucus be?

The group’s steering and political action committee has generally focused on supporting black incumbents and their congressional allies in re-election efforts. But other members, especially progressives, are calling for a more combative militant streak, like that of Mrs. Bush, who challenges the Democratic Party on behalf of blacks. Moderate members of the swing districts, who reject progressive litmus tests like funding police departments or supporting a Green New Deal, say the caucus is behind the cogs of the modern campaign and remains too pessimistic about to the chances of black applicants in predominantly white districts.

Many new CBC members, even those whose assistants discussed their frustration privately, declined to comment on the record for this article. Caucus leadership, including current chair, Rep. Joyce Beatty of Ohio, also did not respond to requests for comment.

Miti Sathe, founder of Square One Politics, a political enterprise used by Ms Underwood and other successful black candidates, including Rep. Lucy McBath, a Democrat from Georgia, said she often wondered why the caucus didn was not a better ally on the campaign trail.

She recounted how Ms Underwood, a former CBC intern who was the only black candidate in her race, did not receive initial caucus approval.

In Ms. Underwood’s run, “we tried several times to have conversations with them, get their support and get their fundraising lists, and they refused,” Ms. Sathe said.

Rep. Ritchie Torres from New York, a 33-year-old freshman, said the similarities between the CBC members always outweighed the differences.

“It seems one-dimensional to characterize it as a generational divide,” he said. “The freshman class – the CBC freshmen – are hardly a monolith. “

Political strategy is often the dividing line between members – not politics. The veterans led by Clyburn hugged close to Ms Pelosi to rise through the ranks and believe the younger ones should follow their lead. They have taken a zero tolerance stance towards the main challengers of the Democratic incumbents. They recently lobbied for a clean approach to voting rights legislation, attacking public funding proposals for campaigns and independent redistribution committees, which have the support of many Democrats in Congress but could change the makeup of some congressional districts of black members.

And when young members of Congress urge Ms Pelosi to raise new blood and neglect seniority, this more traditional group nominates Representatives Maxine Waters of California and Bennie Thompson of Mississippi – the committee chairs who have waited years for their hammers. The political arm of the black caucus reflects this insider approach, sometimes supporting white incumbents who are friends with senior caucus leaders instead of viable black challengers.

Representative Gregory Meeks from New York, chairman of the caucus political action committee, said his goal was simple: to help maintain the Democratic majority so the party’s platform could move forward.

“You don’t throw someone out just because someone else comes up against them,” he said. “This is not the way politics works.”

In a special election this month in Ohio to replace former Rep. Marcia Fudge, the new housing secretary and a close ally of Mr. Clyburn, the political arm of the caucus took the unusual step of approving one black candidate over another for an open seat. The group backed Shontel Brown – a Democrat close to Ms Fudge – against several black rivals, including Nina Turner, a former state senator and prominent left-wing ally of Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont.

Mr Meeks said the caucus referred to its senior members from Ohio, including Ms Beatty and Ms Fudge. Mr. Clyburn also personally supported Ms Brown. In the interview, he cited a comment from a campaign deputy for Ms Turner who called him “incredibly stupid” for supporting Mr Biden in the presidential primary. “There is no one in the Congressional Black Caucus who would call the most senior African American among them unbelievably stupid,” Clyburn said.

Ms. Turner, a progressive activist, defended the remark and said Ms. Brown’s caucus endorsement “has done a disservice to the other 11 black candidates in this race.” She argued that Washington’s policy was governed by “a set of rules that leave so many blacks out.”

“The reasons they approved had nothing to do with the black uprising,” said Turner, citing her support for policies such as reparations for the descendants of enslaved people and the cancellation of student debt. . “He had everything to do to preserve a decorum and a consensual model of power that does not offend anyone’s feathers. “

Privately, while some black members of Congress were sympathetic to Ms. Turner’s criticism, they also viewed the comment on Mr. Clyburn as unnecessary fuss, according to those who knew their point of view.

Last year, several new CBC members across the political spectrum became frustrated after concluding that Democrats’ messages on race and policing ignored the findings of a poll commissioned by the caucus and committee. campaign campaign of the Democratic Congress. The poll, obtained by The New York Times, urged inner city Democrats to highlight the police changes they supported rather than defend the status quo.

But the instruction from caucus leaders and the Democratic campaign committee was brutal: denounce police funding and pivot to health care.

“It was baffling that the research was not used properly,” a senior assistant told a new black caucus member, who spoke on condition of anonymity to express his frustrations. “It might have helped some House Democrats keep their jobs.”

Mr. Clyburn makes no secret of his contempt for progressive activists who support police funding. In the interview, he compared the idea to “Burn, baby, burn”, the slogan associated with the Watts riots of 1965 in California.

“’Burn, baby, burn’ destroyed the movement that John Lewis and I helped found in 1960,” he said. “Now we have funded the police. ”

Mr. Meeks, the caucus politician, said he expected his supporters to go where they’ve always gone: black incumbents and their allies. Still, he praised Ms. Bush’s recent activism as helping to “push for change to happen,” a sign of how new blood and ideological diversity might increase the power of the caucus.

But Mrs. Bush won despite the wishes of the political arm of the caucus. And those seeking a similar path to Congress are likely to face similar resistance.

When asked, Mr. Meeks saw no conflict.

“When you’re on a team,” he said, “you pay attention to your teammates. “

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