WASHINGTON -- Rep. Marcia Fudge didn’t sugarcoat her feelings about the fact that President Barack Obama has not yet chosen any African-Americans to fill open high-level positions in his second term.
“The people you have chosen to appoint in this new term have hardly been reflective of this country’s diversity,” the chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus wrote in a terse letter to Obama this month. “Their ire is compounded by the overwhelming support you’ve received from the African-American community.”
The letter’s tone and tenor typifies the blunt, hard-charging style of Fudge, an Ohio Democrat, and signals a shift in how the 43-member caucus of African-American Senate and House of Representatives members will approach the nation’s first African-American president in his final years in office.
“I’m a very direct person just generally,” Fudge said in an interview. “I don’t use a lot of words unnecessarily. I try to get to the heart of the issue, address it and go on to the next thing.”
Fudge hopes to give the CBC a “bigger voice” beyond Congress in order to press an agenda that includes improving economic conditions for African-Americans, preserving and improving voting rights laws, and seeking a balanced change in the country’s immigration laws.
“I believe we can be stronger, more visible, but I also think we can be more effective if we take our positions beyond Capitol Hill,” Fudge said of the caucus. “We want to make sure that everybody understands that we’re not some group that’s so way out that we can’t fit in the mainstream. We are very mainstream, and I want that message to be told.”
Over the last four years, many CBC members held their tongues, quietly grumbled, or delicately expressed frustration about a seeming inability to get their message to Obama.
They contend the president was inattentive to a number of issues impacting African-Americans, especially an unemployment rate nearly twice the nation’s overall jobless rate.
Their frustration is amplified by the amount of time it’s been since the caucus has met with the president – it will be two years on May 12. Obama met with leaders of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus in January and proclaimed revamping immigration laws as a top legislative priority. Fudge says she expects the countdown to end soon, though she doesn’t have meeting date from the White House yet.
“I would advise people to get used to a very candid and thoughtful conversation from Marcia Fudge,” said Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, D-Mo., who served as caucus chair in the last Congress and admitted to taking a softer approach in dealing with the Obama White House. “She’s tough as nails and sweet as honey.”
Asked to list Fudge’s attributes, Rep. Hank Johnson, a Democratic CBC member from Georgia, reeled off “impatience, fire, passion on issues of concern not just to African-Americans but to all working people.”
Fudge said she hasn’t received a direct reply from Obama to the letter in which she also expressed disappointment that the White House hasn’t considered “a number of qualified candidates” recommended by the CBC for administration jobs over the last four years.