The Congressional Black Caucus and War Funding Political strategists Ron Walters and Michael Fauntroy speak with Juan Williams about the Congressional Black Caucus and the recent supplemental war-appropriations bill.
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The Congressional Black Caucus and War Funding

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The Congressional Black Caucus and War Funding

The Congressional Black Caucus and War Funding

The Congressional Black Caucus and War Funding

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Political strategists Ron Walters and Michael Fauntroy speak with Juan Williams about the Congressional Black Caucus and the recent supplemental war-appropriations bill.

FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

Time for NPR senior correspondent Juan Williams to give us our weekly dose of news from the Capitol.

JUAN WILLIAMS: We're joined now by Michael Fauntroy, assistant professor of public policy at George Mason University. Michael Fauntroy is the author of "Republicans and the Black Vote." Also with us, Ron Walters, professor of political science at the University of Maryland. Professor Walters, Professor Fauntroy, thanks so much for joining us here on Political Corner.

Professor MICHAEL FAUNTROY (Public Policy, George Mason University; Author, "Republicans and the Black Vote"): Thank you very much.

Professor RON WALTERS (Political Science, University of Maryland): Good to be with you, Juan.

WILLIAMS: The question today is where is the Congressional Black Caucus, where is the Hispanic Caucus when it comes to opposing the war in Iraq? As we know, the Appropriations Committee is going to look at a $124 billion bill to fund the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Many members of the Out of Iraq Coalition include members of the Congressional Black Caucus, including people such as Barbara Lee, Maxine Waters. Ron Walters, where is the Black Caucus on this issue?

Prof. WALTERS: Well, the Black Caucus is split up, Juan, and they're sort of divided between, on the one hand, their congressional roles. Some of them are whips, some of them are deputy or regional whips and therefore connected to the leadership of the House, and therefore answerable ultimately to Nancy Pelosi, who is trying to sort of stir a midcourse through this.

But she is caught between and among a whole series of factors, and members of the Congressional Black Caucus are involved in those factions. Barbara Lee, for example, the Out of Iraq Caucus. Maxine Waters, really, I think also belongs in that group. Both of them are really opposing the bill.

And Jim Clyburn, of course, is caught because he is majority assistant whip and he has responsibility, actually, to make people sort of tow the line. He has come under tremendous criticism for not being able to do that with the Congressional Black Caucus that is sort of directly under his tutelage. So I think that they're all over the map just like the Hispanic Caucus, just like the rest of the Democratic caucus.

WILLIAMS: Well, let's describe the split for the listeners because it's not a split that might immediately be intuited by the listeners. It's not a split between people who are opposed to withdrawing and people who want to stay. It's a split among people who all want to withdraw at some point.

But in the case of the legislation, it would set a withdrawal date of August of 2008 and not insist on immediate withdrawal. And therefore, you have some members of the Black Caucus - and here I'm thinking of people including Carolyn Kilpatrick, the chairman of the Black Caucus - as saying no, we want to say right now, get out. Is that right, Professor Walters?

Prof. WALTERS: By the end of the year, so that you have this range of timing. Democrats really are all over the map on this one.

WILLIAMS: So Barbara Lee, Carolyn Kilpatrick, they're part of the group that says let's have an immediate withdrawal. How big is that group in the Congressional Black Caucus?

Prof. WALTERS: I would say that that is most of the Congressional Black Caucus right now. If you look at the Congressional Black Caucus in terms of ideology, they run about 80-85 percent on an average, and that's the NAACP favorability ratings. So it's a liberal group.

WILLIAMS: Professor Fauntroy, you just heard from Professor Walters to suggest that many of the members the Congressional Black Caucus are in leadership positions as committee chairman, whips and the like. How does this impact their ability to speak clearly for the strong opposition that comes from black voters in the country to the war in Iraq?

Prof. FAUNTROY: Well, I think it complicates their ability to speak as clearly as they might like because of these multiple roles to which Professor Walters just referred. You know, there's another part to this as well.

I think that's that has to be played out too, and that is, you know, the only real way to end this is through the Appropriations process. And CBC members hold just five of the 37 Democratic seats on the full Appropriations Committee and just one member on the Defense subcommittee, Defense Appropriation subcommittee, and that's Sanford Bishop.

And nobody is confusing him with a fire starter, politically speaking. So, you know, the appropriations part of all this, which is really the nub of it all, is an area in which the CBC really doesn't have very much of a presence. And those senior members of the caucus and some of the more outspoken members that we know of are either chairing committees or serving on committees that really don't have the jurisdiction to stop the war.

And consequently, you have a circumstance in which their individual members of the caucus who are able to make some hay. But as an organization, as an overall caucus, there's much left to be desired.

WILLIAMS: Well, let me ask the two of you, then, about the negotiations internally among Democrats. Is it the case that members of the caucus - and here again I'm thinking of people like Barbara Lee, even Carolyn Kilpatrick, the chair of the Black Caucus - are unwilling to negotiate with Pelosi, Nancy Pelosi, speaker of the House, and say yes, we can have a withdrawal date down the line as opposed to an immediate withdrawal.

Do they think that they are going to gain political capital in the black committee by blocking even Pelosi's alternative, which of course is opposed by Republicans and opposed by President Bush?

Prof. WALTERS: Well, I think, what you have here really is not just the black community, because actually Barbara Lee are represents a 60 percent white district out in Berkeley, California, in the Bay Area. So some of these members really represent very progressive white constituencies. To the extent that they cohere at all is really around a relatively moderate set of propositions with respect to the war. The timing is one of them, of course.

But you've got to look at all the other things they're talking about, the benchmarks, the $10 billion that are going to be spent. The sweetening in this appropriation's bill that they're going to be pushing, enlarged in that is money for Katrina.

And so they've got some interests here that are very important, but the difficulty of course is around, as we've been saying, on the one hand, their roles as leaders, on the other hand, their roles as members of the various constituencies and the outside pressure. I mean, there are demonstrations in Washington, D.C. as we speak. One of them prevented me from getting here.

WILLIAMS: Well, I rarely get to correct you, Professor Walters, but it didn't prevent you. It might have delayed you, but we're lucky to have you.

Michael Fauntroy is an assistant professor of public policy at George Mason University. He's the author of "Republicans and the Black Vote." And Ron Walters, professor of political science at the University of Maryland. Professor Walters' latest book is called "Freedom is Not Enough." Thanks for joining us on Political Corner, gentlemen.

Prof. WALTERS: Thank you, Juan

Prof. FAUNTROY: Thank you.

CHIDEYA: NPR senior correspondent Juan Williams joins us every Thursday right here on Political Corner.

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