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Congressional Black Caucus to push aggressive agenda

Congressional Black Caucus to push aggressive agenda
© Greg Nash

The Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) is locked in on advancing an aggressive legislative agenda aimed at addressing pressing issues affecting Black Americans as it eyes its 50th anniversary.

Established in 1971, the CBC has a record-breaking 58 members, three more than the previous record set in the last Congress.

The growth comes after a tumultuous year headlined by a summer dominated by Black Lives Matter, a pandemic that has disproportionately affected communities of color and an election cycle that saw record Black voter turnout.  

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President BidenJoe BidenBiden overruled Blinken, top officials on initial refugee cap decision: report Suicide bombing hits Afghan security forces Jim Jordan, Val Demings get in shouting match about police during hearing MORE has credited Black voters with his victory, and lawmakers in the CBC are looking for him to back up his promises with actions for their constituencies — especially after African Americans were instrumental in January in delivering the Senate majority to Democrats with two victories in Georgia.

Expectations for meaningful legislation are high, but Rep. Joyce BeattyJoyce Birdson BeattyBlack Caucus: Guilty verdict a 'catalyst' for police reform Democrats debate timing and wisdom of reparations vote Biden's DOJ civil rights nominee faces sharp GOP criticism MORE (D-Ohio), the CBC’s new chairwoman, says that the caucus is in an advantageous position.

“I think the pressure that we have is on our side ... we elected two new senators who were basically unknown to the nation ... and that was in part because of Black women and Black Americans,” Beatty told The Hill. “I think we are well-positioned to lead on voting rights and civil rights issues.”

The surprise blue sweep in Georgia — heavily credited to Stacey Abrams and the Peach State’s other Black voting rights activists — returned razor-thin control of the upper chamber back to Democrats. Vice President Harris will cast tie-breaking votes in the 50-50 Senate.

Beatty and the CBC are using this momentum to launch an “aggressive” agenda that targets a trio of the biggest issues most salient to Black Americans: accessible health care, economic stability and racial justice.

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The caucus’s agenda will be outlined in its forthcoming “100 Day Plan.”

Getting everything both the CBC and the White House want passed is likely to be a Herculean task, thanks to the still in-tact filibuster and centrist senators who have balked at some demands.

Two examples of bills that are high-priority for the CBC but are likely to face challenges are the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act and the John LewisJohn LewisProgressives put Democrats on defense Democrats face mounting hurdles to agenda Democrats see opportunity as states push new voting rules MORE Voting Rights Advancement Act. Both bills were passed by the House in the last Congress but were later relegated to then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellMcConnell vents over 'fake news' The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Tensions rise as U.S. waits for Derek Chauvin verdict Trump looking 'beyond seriously' at 2024 run MORE’s (R-Ky.) legislative graveyard. 

The challenges haven’t deterred the CBC’s ambitions. Beatty said that she expects the first phase of the CBC’s 100 Day Plan to be rolled out next week with the introduction of the caucus’s new domestic policy council that will be co-chaired by Rep. Barbara LeeBarbara Jean LeeProgressive lawmaker to introduce bill seeking more oversight of Israel assistance Biden sparks bipartisan backlash on Afghanistan withdrawal  Biden funding decision inflames debate over textbooks for Palestinian refugees MORE (D-Calif.) and Sen. Cory BookerCory BookerChauvin found guilty as nation exhales Lawmakers react to guilty verdict in Chauvin murder trial: 'Our work is far from done' Schumer on 4/20: Bill coming to end federal marijuana prohibition MORE (D-N.J.).

Under Lee and Booker will be a dozen policy co-chairs that will each oversee committees on “everything from health care, to HBCU education, to environment, energy and agriculture,” Beatty explained, noting the caucus’s new theme of “our power, our message.”

“The power will come with the policy [and] legislation, our message will come through town halls, news releases [and] interviews, because the bottom line is the Congressional Black Caucus has a historic number of members,” Beatty said. “We want to make sure that people know who we are.
 
In the White House the caucus has an ally not only in Harris — a former CBC member and the first Black woman elected vice president — but also Biden, who promised to have Black Americans’ backs following his victory over former President TrumpDonald TrumpSt. Louis lawyer who pointed gun at Black Lives Matter protesters considering Senate run Chauvin found guilty as nation exhales US says Iran negotiations are 'positive' MORE.

Other allies include former Rep. Cedric RichmondCedric RichmondBiden and Harris call Floyd family after Chauvin verdict Julia Letlow sworn in as House member after winning election to replace late husband Congressional Black Caucus members post selfie celebrating first WH visit in four years MORE (D-La.), who left his post in Congress to join the Biden White House as a senior adviser, and former Rep. Marcia FudgeMarcia FudgeBiden dispatches Cabinet members to sell infrastructure plan Watch live: Biden Cabinet officials testify on infrastructure plan The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - GOP draws line on taxes; nation braces for Chauvin verdict MORE (D-Ohio), who is expected to be confirmed as Biden's Housing and Urban Development secretary.

Both are former CBC chairs.
 
Since taking office on Jan. 20, Biden has signaled his goal of making the entire federal government more equitable and given much of his attention to rolling out his COVID-19 response plan.

A massive part of the combating the virus — vaccine distribution — has so far been an inequitable process, with communities of color who have been hit hardest by COVID-19 receiving a disproportionate percentage of the doses.  

In addition to more equity in the vaccine process, Beatty said that the caucus wants to see more “education and awareness” regarding the vaccine in Black communities, citing long-standing mistrust of the government.

“We still hold all too familiar the Tuskegee Syphilis experiment and Henrietta Lacks,” Beatty said. “All of those things with us being not included or abused in the process, made many Black communities skeptical about getting [the vaccine].”