10 Questions for Rep. Emanuel Cleaver
The chairman of Congressional Black Caucus gears up for the election
Since its inception in 1971, the Congressional Black Caucus has been on the front lines of tackling concerns of the African American community and effectively addressing its legislative needs. Chairman Emanuel Cleaver (D - Mo.), who has been leading the caucus since 2010, sat down with Loop 21 to share his thoughts on the upcoming Annual Legislative Conference (which starts today, in Washington, D.C.), Mitt Romney, and why Rahm Emanuel can’t fix Chicago by himself.
Loop 21: What are you looking forward to the most at this year’s Annual Legislative Conference?
Cleaver: The highlight of the ALC for me is the time set aside for brain trusts and workshops. I’m involved in a few, including the Truth About the Green Economy with Green For All and, of course, the prayer breakfast [Cleaver is a United Methodist minister] and the annual meeting with ministers afterwards.
Loop 21: This year’s Phoenix Awards Dinner will be a bit different. Instead of the president doing the keynote speech, the first lady will speak. Does that make you nervous?
Cleaver: I’ve spoken with her staff and I’m excited. We’re open to whatever she says. I’m almost certain it won’t be too political and she’s always a great speaker so it’ll be a lot to look forward too. Besides, like I told them, she’s the best speaker in the White House anyway.
Loop 21: Has working with the first African American president for the last four years changed the Congressional Black Caucus?
Cleaver: We’re still getting work done, and having a great ALC every year. The best part is having someone who used to sit in the audience at the Phoenix Awards Dinner now be the president.
Loop 21: What are your thoughts on President Obama’s current campaign? Do you think he and his team are doing a good job?
Cleaver: Yes I do and I think we’re winning, I’ll tell you that.
Loop 21: This week a secret video was released of Mitt Romney saying he wasn’t worried about 47 percent of Americans. He’s taking a lot of heat in the press. Why do you think he is having so many problems with his campaign?
Cleaver: Many in the press will remember when the lady in the audience at a McCain rally told him that Obama is not an American citizen and he grabbed the microphone from her and told her no, not true and corrected her. I think it would serve Romney well to say he doesn’t agree with the president on certain things, but have a moment where he addresses racism, lies and other falsities that have been injected into this campaign season.
Loop 21: Four years ago, the election was all most people in the country could talk about. The excitement just isn’t here this time around. Why is that?
Cleaver: We’re not going to have the level of excitement in 2012 that we had in 2008. Some of it’s because you can’t drive the car for the first time but the first time. That’s just the reality. I think we had a lot of African American inflated expectation and most of that has left, unfortunately.
Loop 21: Do you think we’ll have a good turnout?
Cleaver: It will not match the turnout of 2008; we’ll have to work harder to get the turnout we need.
Loop 21: Some experts say that re-election is in the bag for President Obama. Is it?
Cleaver: During the Carter re-election campaign he had a five-point lead against Ronald Reagan and lost. It’s okay to feel good about where we stand in the polls; it’s where we stand on Nov. 6 that matters. In this world the unpredictable is always sitting out there ready to have its say.
Loop 21: During this year’s ALC there will be a workshop on Youth Violence and, as you know, Chicago has been making headlines almost weekly for extreme violence among urban youth. Is there anything members of the CBC and other concerned citizens can do to help?
Cleaver: What we all have to understand is that we cannot elect, ordain or appoint [someone] who will solve the problem of urban violence. The sooner we come to the conclusion that we cannot do that we’ll be better as a community. We elect a mayor and think it’s going to stop June Bug from shooting Tyrone or having Pookie gun down Willie Earl. We prefer to try to elect someone instead of doing what’s required and that’s solving the problem in our own communities. It has a lot to do with the sociology of the black community that we’ve allowed to fester. We have to take charge and turn it around. That’s the only way it’ll change.
Loop 21: In your ideal world, what would another four years of an Obama presidency look like?
Cleaver: I would like for the Republican leadership in the house to make a decision that they will work with President Obama at least for two years after the election to get some of the major things done like [saving] the Post Office, the Real Jobs Program, the Farm Bill and so much more. It would be nice, to see work get done for the country and its people, they deserve it.