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White House Meeting Came After Black Lawmakers Expressed Concern


We wanted to get additional perspective so we called Nia-Malika Henderson. She is a reporter for and shes written about the disconnect between the Congressional Black Caucus and President Obama. Welcome. Thanks for joining us.

Ms. NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON (Reporter, Its great to be here.

MARTIN: I wanted to pick up on a question that I asked Congresswoman Clarke which was that Barbara Lee, the chair of the Black Caucus, came before the media after the meeting yesterday and said theres no grumbling. But clearly there is. So, I wanted to ask you the same question I asked Congresswoman Clarke which is why dont they just say that?

Ms. HENDERSON: Right. I mean, well, they are saying it. I mean, they - I think they wanted to, in many ways, present a united front after coming out of the White House, an hour long meeting. But privately theyre grumbling, and in some ways, publicly theyre grumbling. I mean, its almost as if there is inherent tension between the CBCs mission and their agenda and what the presidents mission is.

They have a very progressive agenda. They want a really large, a jobs bill out of the House and the Senate and this political climate just doesnt really allow for that. And you have a president who is faced with trying in some ways to be a moderate Democrat, a new Democrat, if you will. And so, in many ways, I think, there is this inherent tension. And though they dont necessarily phrase it in that way. I mean, if you look at their agenda, you can see that theyre, in some ways, incongruent.

MARTIN: The president also met with members of the Hispanic Caucus yesterday to talk about health care and there is also a disconnect with that caucus in that they have been pushing the president to make more of a priority of immigration reform. Do you have any sense of whether there was any meeting of the minds after that meeting yesterday?

Ms. HENDERSON: Well, anytime anybody comes out of the White House, and then its almost like they have the White House glow. And they come out and they say it was a very productive and substantial meeting, and there was progress made, and they feel like they are on the same page. And so, thats kind of the language that we heard yesterday. They feel like there is going to be some movement.

But again, the president is one person. But then they go back to the Senate and the House. And whether or not, in this political climate, they can broker some sort of comprehensive immigration reform, it isnt clear. The conversations also talked about health care. And the Congressional Hispanic Caucus has some concerns about the provisions in some of these bills that could bar illegal immigrants from purchasing health care with their own money.

MARTIN: And finally, Nia, the president announced today, or the presidents office announced today, that he is delaying his planned trip to Asia. Hes pushing it back a week in order to try to make this final push on health care. And the reason I mentioned that is that one of the complaints of these groups is that health care has consumed so much of the presidents time and energy that other issues have not gotten the attention that they would like. Is that really going to change? I mean, isnt the die cast at this point?

Ms. HENDERSON: Yes. Who would have thought a year ago that we would still be talking about health care? I mean, we remember all of these deadlines the president said in trying to get health care passed. The first one was at the end of the summer. And here we are in March and it looks like, you know, I mean I think there is a 51 percent chance according to the folks in the White House that this may pass, so there is still a lot of wrangling to be done on this.

And in the meantime, the president has promised that he would be focusing like a laser on jobs. And guess what, how can he really do that given his schedules. Yesterday was packed with health care. Its hard for him to do that with health care still out there.

MARTIN: And the final point you made in your piece, and again well have a link to it, is that the president one of the issues in the presidents hip pocket is hes more popular with blacks and Latinos and probably any of these members of these caucuses is, so theres that.

Ms. HENDERSON: Its true. I mean, hes got 96 percent approval rating in the black communities. These members, though, theyre well liked in their districts, Id be hard pressed to find someone with that much approval. Its not that he doesnt necessarily need the CBC, but its certainly hard for them to push him and challenge him very publicly and vocally, because quite frankly they go back home and they see constituents who expect that their representatives have close relationships with this president. And quite frankly, their constituents also feel, in some ways, protective about this president and want to defend him and see him do well.

MARTIN: Nia-Malika Henderson is a reporter for Politico. She joined us from her office there in Northern Virginia in the Washington, D.C. area. If you want to read the piece were talking about and her other coverage, well have links on our Web Site. Just go to, click on programs, then on TELL ME MORE. Nia, thank you.

Ms. HENDERSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.