Clinton Addresses Black Caucus; Obama Campaigns

Democratic presidential contender Hillary Clinton spoke at the Congressional Black Caucus' annual meeting Friday about the stakes in the 2008 election. The speech continues a vigorous campaign for the African-American vote; Clinton's leading opponent for the party nomination, Sen. Barack Obama, who is a member of the caucus, was nearby to talk to students at Howard University.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

The Democrats and the African-American vote. That's where we're going to start this hour. The top Democratic presidential contenders spent today talking to black lawmakers and future leaders - we'll have a report on that. We'll also hear from Tennessee, where a white Democrat has disappointed some constituents in his majority black district.

BLOCK: First, the presidential race. Senator Hillary Clinton had the stage today at the Annual Legislative Conference of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation. Just blocks away, her rival and Black Caucus member, Senator Barack Obama, addressed students at Howard University.

As NPR's Debbie Elliott reports, Clinton's prominent appearance has raised some eyebrows among Obama supporters.

DEBBIE ELLIOTT: Before a backdrop of twinkling stars on a dark blue curtain, Clinton sat in a cozy armchair between the Black Caucus chairwoman, Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick of Michigan, and Florida Congressman Kendrick Meek. They invited her for a forum called "What's at Stake in 2008?" Clinton opened by reminding her audience of two historic events in the last week.

Senator HILLARY CLINTON (Democrat, New York): Just a few days ago, I was in Little Rock for the 50th anniversary commemoration of the Little Rock Nine. And around the same time, we had thousands of people in Jena, Louisiana. So you can see the bookends of - yes, there has been a lot of forward movement. But there is such a long way to go.

ELLIOTT: Clinton didn't mention her top rival for the Democratic presidential nomination, Barack Obama. In a nod to concerns about Clinton's role at the gathering, caucus Chairwoman Kilpatrick noted on stage that Senator Clinton has a history with the Black Caucus.

Representative CAROLYN CHEEKS KILPATRICK (Democrat, Michigan): We've been hounded all week about the press. You've always come to our CBC's issue forums. For many years - I've been here 10, you've been here longer than that with the president.

ELLIOTT: Senator Obama is attending other CBC events and hosted his own forum today on climate change. New York Congresswoman Yvette Clarke said Clinton's appearance shouldn't be a problem.

State Representative YVETTE CLARKE (Democrat, New York): Each member of Congress is entitled to do whatever type of forum they decide. And Congressman Meek and Congresswoman Kilpatrick made a decision to host Hillary Clinton. Barack Obama's supporters could have done the same thing - don't moan, go to work.

ELLIOTT: Obama's campaign was at work just uptown at historically black Howard University for its 140th convocation. Senator Obama laid out a plan to overhaul the Justice Department and encourage students to keep up the fight.

Senator BARACK OBAMA (Democrat, Illinois): Don't let anyone tell you that change is not possible. Don't let them tell you that speaking out and standing up against injustice is too risky. What's too risky is keeping quiet. What's too risky is looking the other way. I don't want to be here standing and talking about another Jena four years from now because we didn't have the courage to act today.

ELLIOTT: Howard graduate and Maryland Congressman Elijah Cummings, a former chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, was in the audience. He noted that just because two members invited Clinton to speak doesn't mean she is somehow endorsed by the membership.

Representative ELIJAH CUMMINGS (Democrat, Maryland): I was chairman of the caucus. I was a supporter of Howard Dean. And when I did things with Howard Dean and I supported him, I made it abundantly clear that this was a personal decision, that I do not speak for the caucus.

ELLIOTT: Not all caucus members have endorsed a candidate, but others are generally split between Clinton and Obama. The endorsements come in a pivotal year for the Congressional Black Caucus. Members hold more powerful leadership posts than at any time in the group's 37-year history.

Debbie Elliott, NPR News, Washington.

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