After Rangel

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Charles RangelSome pundits contend that the immediate future of the Congressional Black Caucus is inextricably tied to the fate of its venerable leader, Charles B. Rangel, D-N.Y. The House of Representatives voted 333 to 79 on Dec. 2 to censure Rangel for 11 ethics violations, rejecting the lesser “reprimand” he and his supporters sought. It was the first time in nearly three decades that the House levied the second-most severe punishment after expulsion against a member. Much like the “shellacking” Democrats received during the midterm elections in November, Rangel’s censure and its attendant public humiliation could be another terrible setback for the 41 representatives in the CBC, with one of them, Maxine Waters, D-Calif., still awaiting her hearing before the House Ethics Subcommittee.

Regardless of the outcome for Rangel, the CBC has to take stock of the 60 seats won by the Republicans and the dramatic shift in power in the House of Representatives. In fact, the CBC’s number may be increased by two, if Republicans Tim Scott of South Carolina and Allen West of Florida make good on their intention to join. The CBC will also be under new leadership. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver of Missouri, assailed earlier this year by Tea Party fanatics outside the Capitol Building, was unanimously elected to lead the nearly 40-year-old organization. Of the founders, only Rangel and John Conyers, D-Mich., remain. “Because we now occupy the minority, the challenge we are faced with will be greater,” Cleaver told reporters. “If we walk together, we will accomplish our aim.”

Those aims, whatever they will be, are sure to be met with some opposition. Indeed, the CBC will need all the support it can get from House Democrats, with Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., assuming the Minority Leader position, formerly held by the incoming Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio.

Among the tasks looming on the horizon for the CBC and its members is a decision on the extent to which they will support President Obama, if he seeks a second term. Before finally throwing their weight behind him, there was growing discontent among CBC members who were concerned that Obama wasn’t doing enough on jobs and the impact of the recession on the Black community. Nowadays, however, they are in concert with the president. Not only will Obama get substantial assistance from Black elected officials, the CBC will also lend support to their Democratic colleagues in their quest for re-election and to regain the House.

In addition, members are sure to be poised to beat back such opposition as posed by Harry Alford and his ilk. In a recent Op-Ed column, Alford, co-founder and president/CEO of the National Black Chamber of Commerce, which is a member of the decidedly anti-Obama U.S. Chamber of Commerce, declared that Obama “has hurt African-Americans, Black businesses (job creators) and our economy as a whole without any concern or empathy. The recent election is screaming at him to ‘wake up!!’ but he continues his swagger, nerdy smile and takes off on junkets to India and such.”

These are formidable assignments. Key to it all is rallying the Democratic base, luring back Independent voters and reigniting the fire young voters demonstrated so decisively in 2008, many of whom were among the
more-than eight million fewer voters who didn’t show up during the mid-term election.

A good sign that the CBC intends to be more forceful came during its recent meeting with Pelosi, mainly to sort out the dispute over the leadership position of Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C. Clyburn is set to take the No. 3 position among Democrats, behind Pelosi and Steny Hoyer, D-Md. Cleaver and other CBC members insist that Clyburn’s position not be limited to ceremonial status, thereby curtailing his power
and influence in the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee or his place on appropriation issues. “The bottom line: Jim Clyburn is being given the latitude to make this into what he wants it to be,” Cleaver says. “His portfolio can expand.”

An expanded portfolio for Clyburn is an expansion of the CBC as well, and the members, particularly those who survived tough re-election campaigns, appear to be ready to increase their power as they intensify their standing in the House. That’s the real bottom line.