(Washington Post) — Forty years ago, the purpose of a caucus to represent African Americans in Congress seemed clear to its founders: to eradicate racism. The 13 legislators who formed the Congressional Black Caucus in March 1971 saw themselves as representatives of black people all over the country. Theirs was a role akin to civil rights activists. Only they had the bully pulpit of the country’s most powerful legislative body. The current caucus members , who are marking the anniversary of its founding this week, have a mission that is more diffuse, a role that is harder to define and power that has been fully absorbed into the nation’s political system. For one, the caucus has 43 members from urban and rural districts. It includes one Republican. A handful of its members have been elected from majority-white districts. Eight have faced ethics investigations in the past three years. One of its members is the third-most powerful House Democrat, and a former caucus member sits in the White House.
“There are challenges today that we did not have then,” said Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, D-Mo., who chairs the caucus and represents a district that is majority white. “We cannot at all times have all of the members in sync because of the differences we have in our constituencies. But most of the time when we vote our conscience, we end up voting in a block.” The challenges faced by the modern CBC include forging a relationship with the White House. President Obama met Wednesday with its leadership team. The conversation was wide-ranging, according to a CBC spokeswoman, and focused on federal budget issues and the country’s long-term investment in poor communities.