"If [former President] Bill Clinton had been in the White House and had failed to address this problem, we probably would be marching on the White House," Cleaver told “The Miami Herald” in comments published Sunday. "There is a less-volatile reaction in the CBC because nobody wants to do anything that would empower the people who hate the president."
CBC members have expressed concern in recent months as the unemployment rate has continued to rise amongst African-Americans, pushing for Obama to do more to address the needs of vulnerable communities.
"We’re supportive of the president, but we getting tired, y’all,” Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) said in August. “We want to give [Obama] every opportunity, but our people are hurting. The unemployment is unconscionable. We don’t know what the strategy is."
Rather than targeting Obama’s leadership, many CBC members aimed their fire at the Tea Party movement over the summer’s congressional recess. Waters said in a public meeting in her district that the Tea Party "can go straight to hell." Another member, Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-Fla.), called the Tea Party “the real enemy” seeking to hold Congress “hostage.”
Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.), the only Republican member of the CBC and also a member of the Tea Party Caucus, objected to hostile language used by members targeting the Tea Party movement and threatened to leave the caucus unless Cleaver condemned remarks made by other members. West singled out comments from Rep. André Carson (D-Ind.), the CBC’s whip, who said that Tea Party-affiliated members of Congress see African-Americans as "second-class citizens" and would be happy to see them "hanging from a tree."
Cleaver persuaded West to remain a member of the caucus, with West indicating later that one reason he decided to stay was that the CBC membership needed a conservative presence.
“I will not be resigning from the Congressional Black Caucus,” West wrote on his Facebook following a meeting with Cleaver at the beginning of September. “Cowards run from challenges, while warriors run to the sound of battle.”
According to West, he is working with Cleaver to produce a plan to confront the rate for unemployment amongst African-Americans, which at 16.7 percent is nearly double the rate nationwide.
Cleaver acknowledged that some of the things members of his caucus say might not be in the best interests of the “aggressive agenda” he said he is seeking to develop as chairman.
“Maxine Waters represents central Los Angeles first and she has to represent her constituents first and she's going to say things in order to represent them,” he said.