Black leaders expect Clinton to deliver

Black leaders expect Clinton to deliver
© Getty Images

Black voters bolstering Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonBiden nominates Meg Whitman as ambassador to Kenya Hillary Clinton shares part of her 2016 victory speech for the first time Ben Affleck: Republicans 'want to dodge the consequences for their actions' through gerrymandering MORE’s bid for the Democratic nomination expect her to deliver results if she wins the White House.

Prison reform, education and increasing black employment are among the issues that black leaders have raised with Clinton as they have pledged their support. 


Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.) said members of the Congressional Black Caucus have spoken to Clinton about anti-poverty legislation sponsored by Rep. James Clyburn, who delivered a crucial endorsement for the former secretary of State in the days before her big win in South Carolina’s primary. 

“She has said that she will support that strongly, and we think she’ll have a strong chance of getting that through,” Cleaver said in an interview with The Hill, adding that Clinton “embraced it quickly, which is extremely important to us.” 

If Clinton wins the presidency, she’ll owe a part of the victory to black voters, who have largely been the difference in her primary fight against Bernie SandersBernie SandersBriahna Joy Gray discusses US's handling of COVID-19 testing Senate rejects attempt to block Biden's Saudi arms sale Overnight Defense & National Security — Lawmakers clinch deal on defense bill MORE

Clinton built her delegate lead by sweeping the South, largely because of the black vote. NBC exit polls show that Clinton trounced Sanders 81 to 18 percent among African-Americans in Florida, where she won a huge victory. In Cleaver’s home state of Missouri, she also fared much better than the Vermont senator among black voters, winning 67 percent. 

Given that context and Clinton’s stated desire to take action on income inequality and jobs, it’s easy to imagine the Clyburn legislation — which has drawn support from Republicans — being moved in the first 100 days of a Clinton administration. 

Clyburn’s bill would direct at least 10 percent of federal spending on discretionary programs to communities where at least 20 percent of the population has lived below the poverty line for at least the last 30 years. While many of those districts have poor white populations as well, the bill could help black Americans struggling in the economic recovery.

Black leaders who have backed Clinton will be looking for more, however. 

Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.) said he hopes the former first lady addresses “inadequate jobs, inadequate housing and inadequate education” in black communities. He’d also like to see diverse appointments not just at the Cabinet level but at the sub-Cabinet level and in the judicial system.

“I believe she gets it,” Hastings added of Clinton’s understanding of concerns within the black community. “I think she’ll listen to me and [Congressman] Charlie Rangel, [Congressman] Bobby ScottRobert (Bobby) Cortez ScottIndustry, labor groups at odds over financial penalties in spending package Historically Black colleges and universities could see historic funding under Biden plan Republican Winsome Sears wins Virginia lieutenant governor's race MORE, those of us who had been around, and I think she would spend some time in the communities.”

Cleaver, a longtime Clinton supporter who endorsed her in the 2008 presidential primary, said he sat down in a Des Moines hotel room with the Democratic front-runner to talk about issues that black voters want the next president to focus upon.

“I can’t say I laid out an agenda, but by the time the general election begins, that’s when we start speaking very specifically about what we’d like to see her champion,” Cleaver said. “No one is going to be hesitant to be candid. She’s trying to win the primary election and this may not be a good time for one particular group to demand things.”

Clinton is hoping that black voters keep her on top in New York’s primary on April 19. 

On Sunday, she made stops at three African-American churches in New York City to highlight her work and her husband’s work when he was president. 

The effort hit a major speed bump last week when Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonWhat we can learn from Bob Dole Hillary Clinton shares part of her 2016 victory speech for the first time Is the US capable of thinking strategically? MORE got into a public argument with protesters in the Empire State over the 1994 crime bill he signed into law. As protesters chanted “black youth are not superpredators,” he defended the legislation, arguing the protesters were “defending the people who killed the lives you say matter.”

Bill Clinton a day later said he regretted the comments, but Sanders has sought to make them an issue. 

Independent observers say the remarks hurt Hillary Clinton, but that reservoirs of goodwill for the Clinton years will help the former first couple weather them. 

“That comment will make it harder to woo younger African-Americans to her side,” said Democratic strategist Jamal Simmons. “But I think older African-Americans remember how bad things were at the time.” 

A Quinnipiac University poll late last month showed that African-Americans in New York support Clinton 66 percent to 31 percent for Sanders. 

Clinton in some ways is following in the steps of Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaContinuing resolutions are undermining Congress' right (and responsibility) to operate Rising costs top concern for Americans: poll Biden Supreme Court study panel unanimously approves final report MORE in forming a coalition of support in the Democratic primary. In 2008, the then-Illinois senator, not Clinton, benefited from black support because many in the community wanted to help elect the first black president.

Obama was under pressure after his election to do something for the black community, and there are critics who argue he did not do enough. 

“Historians are going to have a field day trying to juxtapose how in the era of the first black president, the bottom fell out for black America,” talk show host and frequent Obama critic Tavis Smiley said late last year on Fox News. “Black people were still in many ways politically marginalized, socially manipulated and economically exploited.”

Obama frequently talked in his first term about how he wanted to be the president for all Americans — not just black Americans. 

In some ways, that situation arguably put him in a more difficult position upon entering the White House than Clinton would find herself in. Clinton would at least not face critics guessing that a position to help black America was being taken because of her race. 

Cleaver and Hastings say that despite some misgivings over the crime bill and welfare reform, black voters have good memories of the Clinton years that are now helping the former first lady. 

“A large part of it has to do with Bill Clinton,” Hastings said. “They were a team. And people know they will be a team.

“What people saw in Bill Clinton was a person who was sensitive to their needs,” Hastings said. “Black folks would be really happy if she accomplished 75 percent of what her husband did.” 

Clemmie L. Harris, a visiting assistant professor at the Center for African American Studies at Wesleyan University, said some in the black political class feel as though they had greater access to the White House under Clinton then they did under Obama. 

With a new Clinton presidency, they hope it will “return to that level of opportunity.”