By Alicia M. Cohn, Daniel Strauss and Mike Lillis - 09/27/11 01:19 AM EDT
Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) on Monday tried to downplay friction between the black community and President Obama but warned the president might have gotten “carried away” in remarks made over the weekend.
“We’ve received a lot of comments today with people asking what did he mean and who was he talking to?” she said on MSNBC. “And I’ve simply responded by saying I don’t know who the president was talking to — certainly not the Congressional Black Caucus. He certainly wasn’t talking about us. “
She then noted that black lawmakers didn’t go on vacation during the August recess. “We were actually working during our break,” she said.
Obama spent a week over the August recess in Martha’s Vineyard with his family.
Waters’s remarks highlight a dilemma facing CBC members, who have been walking a fine line between supporting a historic president they want very much to see succeed and pushing him to fight harder for some of the policy priorities they think he’s neglecting.
Some CBC members recently questioned why Obama’s August jobs tour through the Midwest didn’t feature any stops in the black, urban areas hit hardest by the recession. By contrast, CBC leaders used the August recess to promote jobs in Los Angeles, Detroit and other cities most affected by the downturn.
Obama’s support among African-Americans dropped in September to 58 percent, down from 83 percent five months ago, according to a Washington Post/ABC News poll.
“We love the president. We want him to be successful,” Waters said during the annual CBC conference in Washington. “But does he feel our pain? Does he understand what’s going on out here?”
CBC Chairman Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.) has acknowledged the delicate political task facing him and other CBC members. On one hand, they’ve urged the White House to do more to fight the 16 percent unemployment rate in the black community; on the other, they don’t want to be overly critical of Obama for fear of undermining the nation’s first African-American president.
“If Bill Clinton had been in the White House and had failed to address this problem, we probably would be marching on the White House,” Cleaver said earlier this month. “There is a less volatile reaction in the CBC because nobody wants to do anything that would empower the people who hate the president.”
Last week, Cleaver’s office took the unusual step of issuing a press release attacking a McClatchy news article suggesting that Cleaver “treads [a] line between criticizing [and] supporting Obama.”
The article, Cleaver said, “was comprised of dated quotes which were taken out of context.”
“I, along with the Democratic members of the Congressional Black Caucus, remain strong supporters of President Obama’s American Jobs Act, and we are all working diligently to see the bill considered and passed,” Cleaver said.
Waters has consistently said the CBC supports Obama, and said Monday that she doesn’t believe Obama meant what he said Saturday “as some slap or some insult.”
However, she indicated that CBC members still might not be satisfied with Obama’s level of cooperation with the caucus.
She suggested Obama has used tougher language with the CBC than with other interest groups.
“He certainly didn’t tell [the Hispanic Caucus] to stop complaining, and he would never say that to the gay and lesbian community, who really pushed him on ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell.’ Even in a speech to AIPAC [the American Israel Public Affairs Committee], he would never say to the Jewish community to stop complaining about Israel,” Waters said on CBS.
“The president can get to know the Congressional Black Caucus a lot better,” she said on MSNBC.