Where does one begin? Do note the expression on Jesse Jackson, Jr.'s face.
Maybe that says it all... --BG
by Roland S. Martin, Chicago Defender
January 27, 2005
President George W. Bush met with the Congressional Black Caucus Wednesday for the first time as a group in nearly four years, but what CBC members said stood out the most was the president's declaration that he was "unfamiliar" with the Voting Rights Act of 1965, one of the most significant pieces of legislation passed in the history of the United States.
At the conclusion of yesterday's 40-minute meeting, Bush - who attended along with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice - was asked by Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-2nd) whether he would support the re-authorization of a portion of the Voting Rights Act that must be approved every 25 years (It will come up for consideration next year).
"I don't know anything about the 1965 Voting Rights Act," Jackson recalled the president saying in an interview with the Chicago Defender.
He said that a hurried Bush went on to say that "when the legislation comes before me, I'll take a look at it, but I don't know about it to comment any more than that, but we will look at it when it comes to us."
"It was so unbelievable to me that as soon as I walked out, I got Frank (Watkins, Jackson's top legislative aide) on the telephone, put (Congresswomen) Maxine (Waters, D-Calif.) and Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas), so that I could confirm what he just said is what I heard," Jackson said.
Rep. Bobby Rush (D-1st) said he recalled the president saying he was "unfamiliar" with the Voting Rights Act.
"I was surprised and astounded," Rush told the Defender.
Rep. Danny Davis (D-7th) and Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) could not be reached for comment.
White House spokesman Allen Abney did not specifically address Bush's statement of being unfamiliar with the Voting Rights Act, but said that "there is a section of the Act that is up for re-authorization in 2006, and the president is firmly committed to protecting voting rights. He indicated today that he would be looking closely at the Act as it comes up for re-authorization and certainly take their concerns into consideration."
According to the description on the Department of Justice's website, the Voting Rights Act is "generally considered the most successful piece of civil rights legislation ever adopted by the United States Congress."
The bill guaranteed that African Americans and any other group would not be denied the right to vote, and put in place provisions to ensure that voting rights would not be trampled on by local and state officials.
Bush's meeting with the CBC was the second of two days of meetings with Black leaders. On Tuesday, he met with more than two dozen pastoral and business leaders, all supporters of the president's policies. A couple of weeks ago Bush sat down with Kweisi Mfume, who had recently announced his resignation as president and CEO of the NAACP.
Rush said Wednesday's meeting was different from the others because he has had a fractious relationship with the CBC, and was dealing with "more knowledgeable people around the different issues that affect the African American community."
"In that room you had 43 individuals whose whole life of activity and endeavor have been around trying to upgrade and uplift the life of Black America," Rush said. "We are elected into the Congress and we know the ins and outs of it and we know the machinations that the administration and the Republicans engage in and so, yea, we weren't wild-eyed and in a state of ecstasy just to meet the president. We came to be about business."
As for Bush's mood, Rush said the president was "cordial" but also "as non-responsive today as he was four years ago to the overall agenda."
"He did become animated around the issue of Darfur (Sudan),"Rush said.
As for Rice, Rush said the new secretary of state said "absolutely nothing. She was just there. For what reason, I'm not sure."
Jackson praised CBC Chairman Mel Watt, D-N.C., for focusing on the disparities facing African Americans in six categories, such as economics, social justice and international issues.
He said Bush mostly nodded his head and took notes, but he was adamant about his opposition to statehood for the District of Columbia, a point raised by Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, who represents the Washington, D.C. area in Congress.
Jackson said Bush thought he was going to bring up the issue again and cut him off, saying, "I'm against statehood. I'm consistent on that and have been consistent on that since I was governor (of Texas)."
Photo: From left to right, Rep. Carolyn C. Kilpatrick, D-Mich., Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., D-Ill., Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill., Rep. Charles B. Rangle, D-NY., and Chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, Rep. Mel Watt, D-N.C., speak to the media outside the West Wing of the White House following their meeting with President Bush, Wednesday in Washington. AP/Pablo Martinez Monsivais