CBC Kicks off 113th Congress

James Wright | 1/9/2013, 12:38 p.m.

Marcia Fudge Assumes Helm as New Chair

African-American members of the U.S. House of Representatives recently held its special inauguration ceremony with new members, a new chairman and a renewed sense of commitment to continue the fight to ensure equality for blacks.

More than 300 people packed the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center's Congressional Auditorium to witness the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation's biannual "A Ceremonial Swearing-In" on January 3. The two-hour event attracted spouses and family members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), leaders of national think tanks and corporate leaders, as well.

U.S. Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio), who assumed the helm as the chairman of the CBC, said the organization will not be shut out of the national discourse on the economy and other vital issues.

"As the Congressional Black Caucus, we recognize the unique role that we have to play," said Fudge, 60. "We are not just the conscience of the Congress but of the country."

The CBC was founded in 1971 by 13 black members of Congress who believed that the national legislature needed to address issues that faced their communities. Today, there are 42 members of the CBC that represent 22 states, the District and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

However, U.S. Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), the only black in that body, has opted not to join the CBC even though an invitation was extended to him, Fudge said. Scott, 47, is the first black Republican to serve in the Senate since Edward Brooke of Massachusetts left in 1979 and the first black from the South since Reconstruction.

The CBC has five new members: Reps. Joyce Beatty (D-Ohio), Steven Horsford (D-Nev.), Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), Donald Payne Jr., (D-N.J.) and Marc Veasey (D-Texas). Horsford, the first black Nevadan elected to the U.S. Congress, said he is "humbled and privileged" to be in Washington.

"I am also happy to be a part of the most diverse Democratic caucus in history," he said, referring to 56 percent of the Democratic House members who are non-white males.

Horsford, 39, said that he will focus on jobs and improving the economy.

"The Las Vegas area has 11 percent unemployment, way above the national average of 7.8 percent that the country is feeling now," he said. "We want to find solutions to this so that people can get to work."

While they are in the political minority in the House, the CBC has members who are in influential positions in the Democratic Party. U.S. Reps. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), John Conyers (D-Mich.), Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) and Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas) are the ranking members of the Homeland Security, Judiciary, Oversight and Government Operations and Science and Technology committees, respectively.

U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) is the highest ranking person of color in the 113th Congress as the House Assistant Democratic Leader. The CBC's influence on Democratic politics was evident with House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), who serves as the chairman of the Democratic National Committee and U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) in attendance during the swearing-in ceremony.

David Bositis, the senior research associate at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies in Northwest, said that despite the CBC's power among Democrats, they will have problems getting their agenda through Congress.

"They are in the political minority in the House and the House is run on a very short rope," Bositis said. "It is a very partisan place and the CBC will be on the losing end of most votes."

Bositis said that Scott will not be of much help to the CBC either not because he is not a member of the group, but because he has a different agenda.

"Scott will likely vote just like the person who recommended him to the Senate," he said, referring to the arch-conservative former Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) "It will be interesting to see how he comports himself, given that he will have to run for election in 2014."

Fudge, who understands the odds facing the CBC in a divided, hostile Congress, said that her organization will press on.

"We are fighting for our people when no one knows that we are [fighting for our people]," she said.