By Hazel Trice Edney
The Congressional Black Caucus of the 116th Congress, the largest ever in its 48-year history with 55 members, is billing itself as a powerful “course corrector” that will consistently fight for justice and against wrongs of the Trump Administration.
“Today is a glorious day for our country. Today marks the beginning of a course correction. Correcting the trauma we have all experienced on a daily basis for the last two years,” the new Chairwoman Karen Bass (D-Calif.), said during the annual CBC swearing in service on Capitol Hill Jan. 3. “We will have tremendous power and influence. At this moment in history we are equipped to lead like never before. We are equipped to govern. And we are equipped to resist when and where it’s needed. We are equipped to lead with a vision for our country that not only lifts up our community, but lifts up the nation as a whole.”
Bass assumed the gavel from former CBC Chairman Cedric Richmond (D-La.) before a standing-room-only audience of hundreds who not only celebrated the historic growth of the CBC with nine freshman members, but many of whom also celebrated the new Democratic majority, now 235-199.
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, who referred to the CBC by its nickname, the “conscience of the Congress”, listed several legislative issues that the Democratic-led Congress will bring to the forefront.
Those legislations include a strengthened Voting Rights Act (VRA). Since the U. S. Supreme Court gutted the VRA’s preclearance Clause on June 25, 2013, Democrats have longed to strengthen voting laws to provide greater oversight in states. The preclearance Clause required voting changes in states and territories with histories of voting discrimination to be pre-cleared by the U. S. Department of Justice.
“We have important work to do in this Congress: We have to address the disparity of income in our country, we have to address climate crisis in terms of what that means to environmental justice in our country. We have to recognize that one in five children lives in poverty and that’s intolerable to us,” Pelosi told the audience. “The Congressional Black Caucus challenges us as the ‘conscience of the Congress’. We look to them for guidance. We congratulate them on this special swearing in…Each and every one of you for the intellectual resource, the political astuteness, the generosity of candor that you’re all willing to share with us that make our work more focused and more effective.”
Though House Democrats are currently boasting their new power, most legislation must also win approval by the U. S. Senate which has a Republican majority 52-47. Plus, the Senate has only two CBC members, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) and Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.). African-American Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), is the only Black Republican in the Senate. He is not a member of the CBC.
The new Democratic majority House has also produced a wealth of CBC members in Democratic leadership and chairmanships of House committees. The CBC members who are Democratic leaders are: Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.), majority whip; Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), chairman of the Democratic Caucus; and Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), co-chair of Steering and Policy.
House Committee chairs are: Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas), Science and Technology; Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), Government Reform and Oversight; Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), Financial Services; Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.), Education and Labor; and Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), Homeland Security. In addition, 28 members of the CBC will chair subcommittees.
Chairwoman Bass is also supported by new CBC executive committee. They are First Vice Chair Joyce Beatty (D-Ohio); Second Vice Chair Brenda Lawrence (D-Mich.); Secretary Hank Johnson (D-Ga.); CBC Whip A. Donald McEachin (D-Va.); Parliamentarian Steven Hartford (D-Calif.) and members at large, Dwight Evans (D-Pa.) and Frederica Wilson (D-Fla.).
Majority Whip Clyburn told the audience that the new power of the CBC and the Democrats have been mandated by a nation of voters who have grown weary of injustice.
“Recent legislative actions, judicial decisions, and everyday experiences of the American people have exposed some significant faults in our system that need to be repaired,” Clyburn said. “And the voters responded last November by installing a Democratic majority in the United States House of Representatives. And we are a significant part of that majority.”
Clyburn listed the denials of health care to people with pre-existing conditions, safe drinking water to communities, clean air to citizens, affordable college tuitions, quality housing, due process to asylum seeking children and parents as faults that must be repaired. He added that “allowing catastrophic climate change to harm our environment are significant faults that we must repair.”
Pelosi concluded, “We will watch them bring the CBC tradition; the conscience of the Congress, into each of their committees…I just want everyone to remember this moment a few months from now. I want you to just watch and see what happens when the gavels are placed in these hands.”