Square Pegs—Black Republicans and the Congressional Black Caucus

Square Pegs—Black Republicans and the Congressional Black Caucus

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WASHINGTON, D.C.—Election Day victories for two Black Republicans raise a rare question in the House of Representatives in the 112th Congress: How will two African American members of the Grand Old Party interact with the Congressional Black Caucus?

Fourteen Black Republicans ran for Congress in the Nov. 2 midterm elections but, after all the votes were counted, only Tim Scott (above right), a South Carolina businessman, and Allen West (left), a Florida-based Army veteran of the Iraq War, will take seats. They are the first African-American Republicans to be elected to Congress since 1995.

So far, West has said he wants to be part of the CBC, while Scott is still undecided and is leaning toward not participating.

“It’s really heartening to see this type of diversity demonstrated in African-American representation,” NAACP Washington Bureau Chief Hilary Shelton said. “[Republican Party Chairman] Michael Steele deserves credit for seeing more African-Americans seeking office under the Republican banner.”

He added, “They could be a real asset to the strategy of passing legislation in the House and in advancing the CBC [Congressional Black Caucus] agenda… It’s very difficult to get things through without the cooperation of Democrats and Republicans.”

Not everyone is as sure about the Republican freshmen’s value to the CBC, raising questions about whether Scott and West will choose to join—or even be welcomed—into the caucus, which was created in 1969 as a Capitol Hill advocate for the nation’s African Americans.

While membership is open to all African-American lawmakers, its members have been overwhelmingly Democrats, with only one Republican, Gary Franks of Connecticut, ever becoming a CBC member. Though invited, J.C. Watts, a Black Republican who represented Oklahoma from 1995 to 2003, declined membership. Sen. Edward Brooke, a Massachusetts Republican who served in the Senate from 1967 through 1979, was not publicly invited and refused to join a CBC boycott of President Richard Nixon’s State of the Union address in 1971 although he criticized the Nixon administration’s approach to the Black community and civil rights.

“The name of the group is not the Congressional Black Democratic Caucus, it’s the Black Caucus. [And] if they go back to their founding principles, then these two men should be welcomed with open arms,” said Black Republican political strategist Raynard Jackson. But, he predicted, even if they were admitted, “this group will make a hostile environment for another Black [Republican] based on them not being compatible in their philosophical leaning.”

Echoing statements by CBC Chairwoman Barbara Lee, D-Calif., in an Oct. 22 article in The Economist, Maryland Congresswoman Donna Edwards told the AFRO, “If they’re aligned with the interests of working people, particularly African-Americans, who struggle and they want to work with us to advance those interests," Scott and West would be welcomed into the caucus. But, she added, “What I know of them and their agendas, it is difficult for me to see how that would work [though] it might make for some interesting discussions.”

Backed by the national Tea Party and elected to office by mostly White voters, Scott and West have decidedly conservative agendas, including limited government, lowered taxes and cuts in government spending. Jackson said that, even among GOP ranks, the men are considered to be far, far right of center, making them almost incompatible with the mostly liberal members of the CBC.

“These boys are crazy; they’re Tea Party people,” Jackson told the AFRO. “I’ve had White people calling me up saying these guys are extremely conservative and so far out of the mainstream. Can you see them talking with Maxine Waters? I’d like to be a fly on the wall.”

But, he added, “If I were them, I’d join just to push the issue.”

West, in a Politico interview, indicated his interest in joining the CBC. “That has been a monolithic voice in the body politic for far too long. There is a growing conservative Black voice in this country,” that needs to be heard, West told the publication.

Scott, on the other hand, told Politico he is less willing to join, pointing to his experience in the South Carolina Legislative Black Caucus and the dissonance between him and Black Democrats.

Though White Republicans are excited by these two additions to the House, saying their victories signal a potential increase in the number of Black conservatives, the new additions will not incite more Blacks to join the party “if they’re saying the same thing White conservatives are saying," Jackson said. "It’s not the messenger; it’s the message. You can’t send a Black to say the same things Pat Buchanan says."

“In a lot of ways,” Jackson added, “it would be better not to have these guys in these positions because it gives the White folks in the party a way out” of having to create real change, “especially if they [Scott and West] have no real power.” 
 

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