Black lawmakers push president to take firm action on gun control

Gun_Control-3 From, By Amie Parnes and Justin Sink – 07/09/13 –  Members of the Congressional Black Caucus urged President Obama to take  action on gun control legislation Tuesday at their first meeting with the  president in more than two years.

Obama “reaffirmed his commitment” to the issue during the White House  meeting, one administration official said.

He gave examples of other places where gun violence was a problem, according  to one attendee of the meeting.

Obama started the year with a serious effort to win congressional approval of  gun legislation. But his effort appeared to fail in the Senate, where  legislation to impose tougher background checks on gun purchases failed to win  60 votes and overcome a filibuster.

Many black lawmakers have noted that a disproportionate number of  African-Americans are victims of gun violence. Trayvon Martin, a black teenager  killed in Florida last year in an altercation with a neighborhood watch  volunteer, did not come up, a source familiar with the meeting said. The trial  of the man accused of killing Martin has received enormous attention in the last  few weeks.

Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), who attended the meeting, said Obama is “totally  committed” to passing tougher gun laws in his second term. The trick, she said,  is getting Congress to agree and “not allowing the National Rifle Association to  control the agenda.”

“We’ve got to fight harder and the members of the public have to continue to  speak out,” Lee said. “It’s up to us; I think they [White House officials] are  doing everything that they can do. It’s the House that has not allowed these  bills to come to the floor.”

Lee said Democrats are still seeking a comprehensive solution that includes  efforts to ban military-style rifles, limit the number of bullets in magazines  and take on inner-city hand-gun violence. She noted that public opinion polls  show overwhelming support for those provisions and lamented that the same  enthusiasm hasn’t materialized on Capitol Hill.

“It’s the optics that’s holding us up,” she said, “but hopefully we’re going  to break through that.”

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas), another attendee of Tuesday’s meeting,  said Obama has not “ceded any ground” on the issue, adding that he “is  particularly concerned about the urban gun violence that happens in places like  Chicago.”

“But he’s perplexed as to how Congress could not have moved after the heinous  tragedy in Sandy Hook,” she added.

The meeting between Obama and the CBC came just days an eruption of gun  violence in Chicago, with at least 74 people shot — 12 fatally — over the long  July 4 weekend.

The lawmakers discussed a range of other issues with Obama, including  education, immigration and the economy.

Black lawmakers at times have been frustrated with Obama’s handling of the  economy and with his Cabinet appointments, and the aide acknowledged there were  some tough questions.

“There’s a certain level of immediacy these folks want,” the administration  official said. “They want to see stuff get done.”

After the meeting, caucus Chairwoman Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio) noted there are  “obvious differences in the way we want things to go forward and the way the  White House wants to move things forward.”

Black lawmakers have sometimes criticized the administration, for example,  for not doing more to boost black employment.

An administration official acknowledged that there was a difference of  opinion in the execution of job training programs and other issues pertaining to  young people and employment.

The official added that Obama has certain ideas on the programs while members  have other ideas.

“They’re on the same page but the way they want to execute some of these  ideas is different,” the official said.

Some lawmakers in the meeting raised the issue of backlogs in benefits for  veterans.

Obama agreed, calling it “inexcusably long,” according to one  attendee.

Obama told the lawmakers that he assigned Chief of Staff Denis McDonough and  Deputy Chief of Staff Rob Nabors to the task to make sure that turns  around.

For the most part, while there have been differences between the CBC and  Obama over the economy and his Cabinet, lawmakers exiting Tuesday’s meeting  presented a unified front.

“We’re on the same page,” Fudge said.

Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.), one of the group’s members and the third-ranking  House Democrat, said lawmakers asked Obama to make sure initiatives like  broadband deployment and infrastructure improvements would be “targeted” to  “communities of need.”

“The president was supportive to that approach,” Clyburn said.

Fudge called the meeting “very productive,” and said she was not concerned  that Obama and the CBC had not met for 790 days.

“I don’t have a concern,” Fudge said. “I’ve been chair about 6 months, and  the request that we made of the president has been answered. I think it was an  excellent conversation, and I think the lines of communication have not only  been open but actually we can have broader and deeper conversations after the  meeting today.”

Fudge made headlines in March with a letter to Obama that criticized his  Cabinet appointments, saying they had “hardly been reflective of this country’s  diversity.”

Since then, the president has appointed former Charlotte, N.C., Mayor Anthony  Foxx as Transportation secretary and former CBC chairman Rep. Mel Watt (D-N.C.)  as the director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency.

Asked Tuesday if she had discussed her diversity concerns with the president,  Fudge said she simply “thanked the president for Mel Watt and Anthony  Foxx.”

A White House aide confirmed that no one in the meeting took issue with the  lack of diversity in the Cabinet.

The group also spent a significant amount of time discussing strategies to  address the Supreme Court’s recent ruling on the Voting Rights Act.

Fudge called the conversation a “beginning,” saying that the lawmakers  discussed how to strengthen Section II of the act and how to develop alternative  formulas that might allow the federal government the authority to have  pre-clearance authority on changes to state voting laws.

The  Supreme Court in June threw out a key portion of the Voting Rights Act, arguing  formulas used to determine that some states required “preclearance” was  outdated. 

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