Black Dems Breaking Silence on Obama–‘We’re Getting Tired, Y’all’

Maxine Waters has had vocal criticism for both the president and the tea party during congressional recess. But is this the beginning of a public break between the CBC and White House?

By Shani O. Hilton Aug 23, 2011

California Democrat Maxine Waters has had quite a bit to say on the jobs crisis lately. Despite the overwhelming support President Obama has enjoyed thus from black Americans and the Congressional Black Caucus, Waters has spared neither him nor the tea party from criticism during the summer congressional recess.

The Los Angeles representative was unhappy that the president chose to take his recent bus tour through Midwestern rural areas instead of urban centers where blacks live with double digit unemployment, twice that of the national rate. "We’re supportive of the president, but we getting tired, y’all. Getting tired," Waters said at a Detroit town hall meeting the CBC held last week. "And so what we want to do is we want to give the president every opportunity to show, to show what he can do and what he’s prepared to lead on," Waters continued, according to The Hill newspaper.

Then, this weekend, she had similarly sharp words for the right. "And as far as I’m concerned," she said at an event in LA Saturday night, "the tea party can go straight to hell."

Waters’ remarks, coming at an official CBC event, have prompted much speculation whether the black caucus is prepared to publicly turn on the black president. CBC members largely represent districts with large black populations–and levels of unemployment at 16.1 percent, or higher.

But the CBC has largely stayed silent when it comes to criticizing the president. Some members, including Chair Emmanuel Cleaver, loudly complained about cuts in the president’s budget proposal this February. Others have grumbled about both housing and financial reform. But like most Democrats, the caucus has thus far reserved it’s criticism for the GOP’s obstruction while promoting its own initiatives–an alternative budget, a jobs bill that would help the long-term unemployed compete fairly, a series of jobs fairs that are drawing thousands.

Waters, however, is one of the few more vocally critical members. And Illinois Democrat Jesse Jackson, Jr. says he understands her frustration.

"President Obama got 96 percent of [the black] vote but he isn’t dealing with our biggest problem–unemployment–which is more than twice that of whites," Jackson told in an emailed statement. "We seem to be, not in a win-win situation, but in a never-win position."

Members of the CBC have had several meetings with the president since he took office in hopes of pressing the concerns of black America. The CBC’s alternative budget was meant to illustrate how Congress can better meet the needs of densely black areas with high poverty and unemployment. Still, despite the high hopes of the members, no targeted policies have come from the White House.

Jackson explains how jobs policy should be structured by drawing an analogy to battlefield medicine. "When people are injured, the principle of triage is: Help those hurt the most first; then help the next most seriously injured; and then help those who are hurt the least seriously, last."

The president is readying a major jobs speech for early September, in which he is expected to lay out a fresh suite of pre-campaign job-creation proposals. Administration officials have already signaled to the political press that those initiatives will focus on tax breaks and the president’s long-discussed, but never fought-for infrastructure improvement project, which would create jobs. 

Aside from the occasional frustrated outburst like Waters’ last weekend–and even she later walked back her criticism of Obama for visiting rural areas–the president largely appears to continue enjoying the support of the CBC, as well as the larger Democratic caucus. The question looming over that relationship, however, is the same that looms over much of Washington now: What will happen as the "super committee" negotiations over budget cuts unfolds?