Congressional Black Caucus Chair Emaunel Cleaver Seeks to Support & Critique Obama

September 19, 2011  |  

By Alexis Garrett Stodghill

Unlike the extremely outspoken Rep. Maxine Waters, the chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus Rep. Emanuel Cleaver has attempted to promote the cause of African-Americans through polite means. While he stands by many CBC members’ critiques of the president’s failure to address black unemployment, he has done so without fiery words. Cleaver understands that his group must be free to pursue black interests in Congress, even if that means going against the opinion of America’s first black president. But at the same time, the former mayor of Kansas City is highly sensitive to appearances. A black president being attacked by fellow African-American politicos can help fuel hostile foes of Obama’s legislation. The Miami Herald reports that Rep. Cleaver tries to balance the CBC’s scrutiny with support of the president — but this balancing act is not easy. has more on this black leader caught in a political catch-22:

Cleaver is a lifelong Democrat who prizes political loyalty, and black unemployment has put him and the group he leads in the awkward position of criticizing the policies of a president they admire, but not the president himself.

“It’s not personal,” Cleaver said. “They’re attacking his policies, or lack thereof, with regard to this gigantic unemployment problem among African-Americans. If we can’t criticize a black president, then it’s all over.”

When lawmakers swarmed around Obama as he was leaving the House of Representatives chamber after his recent speech on jobs, caucus members were in the crush, eager for a handshake, a pat on the shoulder or an autograph.

“This is an unprecedented circumstance where an African-American president who is an iconic, heroic figure enjoys a status with African-Americans that no one since Martin Luther King has enjoyed,” said former Rep. Artur Davis, D-ALA., who was a member of the black caucus until leaving office a year ago.

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