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Black lawmakers press Biden on agenda at White House meeting

Black lawmakers press Biden on agenda at White House meeting
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The Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) met with President BidenJoe BidenBiden's quiet diplomacy under pressure as Israel-Hamas fighting intensifies Overnight Defense: Administration approves 5M arms sale to Israel | Biden backs ceasefire in call with Netanyahu | Military sexual assault reform push reaches turning point CDC mask update sparks confusion, opposition MORE at the White House Tuesday seeking to win progress on its legislative agenda.

The meeting comes as race in America dominates the country’s attention, with the troubling rise of Asian American hate and fierce national pushback against another Black man being shot and killed by police in a Minneapolis suburb on Sunday.

Nearly a dozen caucus members were present, including caucus Chairwoman Joyce BeattyJoyce Birdson BeattyAdvocates warn against complacency after Chauvin verdict Democrats demand Biden administration reopen probe into Tamir Rice's death DOJ to probe Minneapolis police MORE (D-Ohio), House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.), Rep. Sheila Jackson LeeSheila Jackson LeeLawmakers roll out legislation to defend pipelines against cyber threats Victims' relatives hold Capitol Hill meetings to push police reform Democrats debate timing and wisdom of reparations vote MORE (D-Texas) as well as Sens. Cory BookerCory BookerPolice reform talks hit familiar stumbling block Almost 20 advocacy groups team up to pressure Congress to pass health care bill for immigrants Biden adds pressure to congressional talks with self-imposed deadlines MORE (D-N.J.) and Raphael WarnockRaphael WarnockDC statehood bill picks up Senate holdout Georgia senators introduce measure allowing voters to have access to water while waiting Cruz outspending other senators on Facebook ads: report MORE (D-Ga.). Vice President Harris and White House senior adviser Cedric RichmondCedric RichmondCarter sworn in as House member to replace Richmond, padding Democrats' majority Biden set to flex clemency powers Democrats confront difficult prospects for midterms MORE — both caucus alums — were also in attendance.

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"We're in the business, all of us meeting today, to deliver some real change,” Biden told reporters from the Oval Office before the meeting. “Every single aspect of our government including every agency has a primary focus of dealing with equity. It’s not a joke.”

Biden also signaled that economic advancement as well as his ambitious infrastructure plan would be on the list of topics discussed.

Outside of the White House after the meeting, Beatty said that it had been an “amazing meeting.”

“We were able to share our thoughts and ideas but we also came because we know there will be challenges,” Beatty said, noting that it’s been a “tough week” for members of the caucus.

At 57 members strong, the half-century-old caucus is the largest it's ever been. It began the session with 58 members, but decreased with the passing of longtime Rep. Alcee HastingsAlcee (Judge) Lamar HastingsHouse Democrats unveil .9 billion bill to boost security after insurrection Carter sworn in as House member to replace Richmond, padding Democrats' majority Democrats cool on Crist's latest bid for Florida governor MORE (D-Fla.) last week.

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Many of the CBC’s legislative priorities are issues that have become relevant for the whole country.

For example, the caucus heavily supports the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, the sweeping police reform bill that passed the House at the beginning of March, but faces stiff opposition in the Senate.

Before going into the meeting, the president also briefly addressed the death of Daunte Wright, the 20-year-old Black man, who was shot and killed by police during a traffic stop in Brooklyn Center, Minn., on Sunday afternoon.

Biden described what happened as “god awful,” adding that there was “a lot” he could deliver on in regards to how law enforcement interacts with and polices Black communities. 

The president made a bold promise shortly after Election Day that he would have Black Americans’ backs while in the White House. Both Black lawmakers and activists are intent on holding him to his word. 

Back in February, the CBC unveiled its “100 Day Plan,” an outline of the caucus’ priorities during Biden’s first months in office.

The rollout of its legislative agenda also included the creation of an internal domestic policy leadership team with policy co-chairs that will oversee caucus committees on issues most important to Black communities.

The caucus brought these priorities up at the post-meeting press conference. Beatty said that the battle to get other things accomplished begins with shoring up voting rights.

“If we don’t get provisions in place, if we don’t protect this democracy, then none of what we’re talking about can happen,” she said.

Democrats and corporations have thrashed the Republican-controlled state legislature in Georgia in recent weeks for passing legislation that rolls back expanded voting rights that were put in place during the last election cycle because of the pandemic.

Equitable vaccine distribution to communities of color that have been hardest hit by COVID-19 is another priority for the CBC, and something that has been an uphill battle for the Biden administration.

Beatty noted that hesitancy over getting the vaccine — a factor that was initially believed to be a big roadblock to getting Black communities vaccinated, in particular — is not the main reason why rates of vaccinations in Black communities continue to lag across the country.

“It’s transportation, it’s distribution and access,” she said. “We want to dispel this whole idea of hesitancy. People should get out and get vaccinated.”