By Molly K. Hooper - 04/19/12 12:08 AM EDT
Members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) say the group’s only Republican lawmaker hasn’t attended a meeting in months.
Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.), an outspoken Tea Party favorite, conceded on Wednesday that he has “not recently” attended the CBC’s weekly meeting but still considers himself a member of the Black Caucus.
“I’m still paying my dues — I’m still part of it. … It’s at the same time as the [conservative-leaning Republican Study Committee] meeting, and you have hearings. … I’m not big into meetings,” West said in an interview with The Hill.
West, who is facing a challenging reelection race this fall, is the third black GOP lawmaker to join the CBC in its nearly 40-year existence. His fellow black Republican colleague, Rep. Tim Scott (S.C.), opted not to join the group.
West earlier this month created a firestorm when he told constituents gathered at his Florida-district town hall that many members of Congress are communists.
“There’s about 78 to 81 members of the Democratic Party that are members of the Communist Party,” which he said now calls itself the Congressional Progressive Caucus.
West was responding to an audience member who asked, “What percentage of the American legislature” is “card-carrying communists?”
More than half of the CBC members are dues-paying members of the Progressive Caucus.
Still, some CBC members seemed to accept West’s divergent opinions, dismissing his recent charges of communism as “political theater.”
A CBC member who requested anonymity labeled West’s remarks as “pageantry” and an appeal to “his constituents."
CBC Rep. Mel Watt (D-N.C.) told The Hill that West’s comments are not likely to make it onto the CBC meeting agenda.
“I think we have more important things to talk about than Allen West and who he thinks a communist is. That’s a diversion, from my perspective,” Watt said. “I haven’t seen him at any recent CBC meetings, so I don’t know whether he’s decided if he’s not coming anymore or not, but he hasn’t been to any that I’ve been to recently.”
Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), who has led both the Progressive Caucus and the CBC, called West’s comments outrageous.
“Red-baiting should never be tolerated, and I’m just shocked that there are those who still want to divide the country, and divide people by red-baiting. It’s unfair, it’s downright wrong and it’s divisive,” Lee said Wednesday.
Asked whether she would confront West to take on his comments, Lee responded, “No. This is all about [West] raising money.”
Shortly after making his comments, West sent out a fundraising email touting himself as the “No. 1 target of liberals and their friends in the media who are going completely nuts about my comments at a recent town hall meeting.”
The fundraising plea obtained by The Miami Herald stated that “in response to a question about Marxists in Congress, I called out the Congressional Progressive Caucus for their extreme left-wing positions. I stand by the point of my comments and I need you to stand with me today by making a contribution of $10 or more.”
West raised an impressive $1.8 million in the first quarter of 2012, but Democrats believe they can defeat him in November.
An unapologetic West this week reiterated his charges of communism, saying “that in the turn of the century, American communists renamed themselves the progressives.”
“I stand by what I am saying. I’m not going to back down. I’m not going to be afraid about the fact that I’ve called a spade a spade,” West told reporters.
Still, West contends that he will continue to be an active member of the CBC. He listed several CBC events he has attended and helped organize: “I do my duties. I’m not big into meetings.”
Oliver Bussell contributed to this report.