Ryan to meet black lawmakers on poverty

Greg Nash

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) on Friday accepted an invitation to sit down with the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) to discuss recent remarks the former vice-presidential candidate made about inner-city culture.

In a letter Thursday, CBC Chairwoman Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio) had said she was "deeply troubled" by Ryan's assertion that "generations" of inner city men are "not even thinking about working." She asked for a meeting with Ryan to discuss poverty alleviation strategies.

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A Ryan spokesman suggested the meeting will take place soon.

"Ryan appreciates the invitation from the Congressional Black Caucus," the spokesman said in an email. "He has said he would welcome a productive conversation on how to better fight poverty, and he looks forward to meeting with the CBC in the near future." 

Ryan, the chairman of the House Budget Committee, raised eyebrows on Wednesday when he told a conservative radio host that poverty is largely caused by a "tailspin of culture, in our inner cities in particular, of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning to value the culture of work."

In response, Fudge joined forces with Rep. Gwen Moore (D-Wis.), another CBC member, to request a sit-down with the Wisconsin Republican.

"Your comments were highly offensive," Fudge and Moore wrote in a March 13 letter.

"We may have many disagreements on the best way to approach this critical issue, yet despite our differences, we all agree on the pressing need to eradicate poverty in our nation. 

"Members of the CBC invite you to join us at one of our weekly meetings," they added, "to discuss our perspectives on poverty in search of finding constructive common ground."

Ryan on Thursday walked back his remarks, saying he was "inarticulate about the point I was trying to make." 

"I was not implicating the culture of one community, but of society as a whole," he said.

In their letter, Fudge and Moore acknowledged Ryan's clarification, but took issue with parts of that, as well, particularly his assessment that “we have allowed our society to isolate or quarantine the poor rather than integrate people into our communities.”

"The problem many people in poverty face is not isolation," Fudge and Moore wrote, "but rather the lack of resources to help ensure all people have the opportunity to succeed and contribute to society, such as adequate transportation, infrastructure, job training programs and other resources to search for jobs and become gainfully employed. 

"A serious policy conversation on poverty should not begin with assumptions or stereotypes." 

Peter Schroeder contributed.

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