by Joyce Jones
Rep. G.K. Butterfield takes over the helm of the Congressional Black Caucus during what could be described as the worst of times for African-American lawmakers on Capitol Hill. When they take the oath of office on January 6, the Republican Party will be in control of both chambers of Congress and hold a super-majority in the House. It also will mark the final two years of President Obama’s tenure at the White House and the CBC, whose members represent nearly a quarter of the Democratic caucus, could play an instrumental role in helping him cement his legacy.
While he was not yet ready to provide the details of his agenda, Butterfield hopes that the CBC will be able to work with both political parties and the president to alleviate the persistent poverty that plagues communities across the nation, a majority of which he says are represented by Republican lawmakers.
It won’t be easy, he acknowledges, and will require compromise by all sides.
“There will be times when I will encourage the CBC to reach across the aisle and try to reach some bipartisan deals that will not make us feel good, but will move the needle in our communities and communities of color,” he said.
He will not ask members to compromise on principles, however, and says there will be times when they may be required to obstruct or agitate on their constituents’ behalf. Butterfield and other Black lawmakers fear that some Republicans, particularly the Tea Party wing, have two goals in this new Congress: to further discredit Obama and to dismantle social programs that benefit low-income communities.
“We’re going to stop it by any means necessary,” he says, “and will use every tool in the box to obstruct Republicans from dismantling the social safety net for African-American communities.”
Butterfield also would like the CBC to form a network with national Black organizations so they can use their experiences and strengths to advocate on common goals. In addition, he plans to challenge Fortune 500 companies to include more African-Americans on their boards, in management positions and the workforce and explore whether they are investing in underserved communities that make up a significant portion of their customer bases.
by Joyce Jones