At a Glance: Black Leaders in Key House Posts

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The 110th session of Congress has an unprecedented number of African-American lawmakers in key positions of power. Black lawmakers with long seniority are taking over committees with influence on such fundamental issues as taxes, homeland security, trade and Social Security.

Some of these representatives – such as Charles Rangel and John Coyners – have been in Washington for decades. Coyners, who was first elected in 1964, helped establish the Congressional Black Caucus in 1969.

The Black Caucus gradually accumulated considerable influence on Capitol Hill, until the Republican takeover of Congress in 1994. Since then, Caucus members have seen their influence wane, rarely winning the ear of the Bush White House.

But last November's election brought a massive reversal of fortune for the Caucus. Now six of its members are poised to have a considerable impact on what happens in the House in the next two years. Here, a guide to who's who:


Rep. James Clyburn
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Rep. James Clyburn

(D-SC)

House Majority Whip

As House majority whip, Clyburn will assist the speaker of the House in building and solidifying support for legislation. The members of the new Democratic majority are hardly monolithic in their politics; they are divided on major issues ranging from Iraq to tax cuts, so Clyburn will have his hands full. Clyburn has been a political trailblazer. He is the first African-American to represent South Carolina in Congress since 1897.


Rep. John Coyners
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Rep. John Conyers

(D-MI)

House Judiciary Committee Chair

John Conyers, 77, is the dean of the Congressional Black Caucus. Conyers first came to Congress in 1965; this year he assumed the chairmanship of the Judiciary Committee. Conyers sponsored the legislation that made the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday a national holiday. He has also proposed a commission to study the issue of reparations to African-American descendants of slaves. Conyers has expressed support for impeachment proceedings against President Bush, but has been overruled by Speaker Nancy Pelosi. He is a big jazz fan, with photos in his office of some of the great players.


Rep. Carolyn Kilpatrick
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Rep. Carolyn Kilpatrick

(D-MI)

Chair of the Congressional Black Congress

Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick was first elected to Congress in 1996. This year, she became chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus, in addition to her duties as a member of the Appropriations Committee. She has worked to steer federal aid to her inner-city Detroit district and has been a supporter of increased foreign assistance for Africa. Her son, Kwame, is Detroit's mayor.


Rep. Charles Rangel
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Rep. Charles Rangel

(D-NY)

House Ways and Means Committee Chair

"Charlie," as he's universally known, is famous for his gravelly voice, his "New Yawk" accent and his stories. Now 76, he considered retiring before the last election but decided to return to the Hill, given the prospect of finally becoming a committee chairman. Now at the helm of the Ways and Means Committee, Rangel has an opportunity to put his imprint on a vast range of issues, including taxes, trade, Social Security and Medicare.


Rep. Bennie Thompson
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Rep. Bennie Thompson

(D-MS)

Homeland Security Committee Chair

Thompson represents the Mississippi Delta, one of the poorest districts in America. As chairman of the Homeland Security panel, Thompson will become a visible figure in Washington, with influence over a wide array of issues. He was floor manager of the first legislative item to come up in the 110th Congress, a bill to implement some of the recommendations of the 9-11 Commission. He has supported more funding for first responders, and vows that his committee will provide greater oversight of the Department of Homeland Security.


Rep. Stephanie Tubbs-Jones
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Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones

(D-OH)

Ethics Committee Chair

Members of the ethics committee have the thankless job of sitting in judgment of their colleagues in cases where it is alleged that lawmakers broke the rules of the institution. As a former county judge and prosecutor, Tubbs Jones has been tapped by Speaker Nancy Pelosi for a position that few members covet. Tubbs Jones also holds a seat on the Ways and Means Committee, the first African-American woman on that powerful panel.


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