January 27, 2005 in Nation/World

Bush meets with black caucus for the first time since 2001

Todd J. Gillman Dallas Morning News

WASHINGTON – For the first time in four years, President Bush welcomed the Congressional Black Caucus to the White House on Wednesday, promising nothing but agreeing to consider proposals to end racial disparities.

For more than an hour, the caucus pressed Bush on an agenda that includes higher funding for Head Start and education, universal health care, affirmative action, and eradicating poverty, disease and war in Africa, the Caribbean and other regions. Some members voiced objections to his Social Security plans.

“The president listened. Whether that prompts a change in policy remains to be seen,” said Barack Obama of Illinois, the only senator in the 43-member all-Democratic caucus.

Bitterness from the Florida presidential ballot recount of 2000 dominated the last meeting with Bush, four years ago next Monday.

Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson of Texas, caucus chairwoman then, said the group stressed many of the same points this time.

“We had our agenda, and we spoke to it. We spoke about disparities in education and opportunity and what have you,” Johnson said. “He was favorable in his responses but (made) no real commitments.”

When time ran out, she recounted, Bush said, “Let’s do it again.’ … I hope that’s the case.”

But caucus members are wary. At the session in 2001, Bush proposed “a lot of meetings” that never came about – just one impromptu meeting with 19 caucus members who showed up at the White House last February to press the administration during a Haiti crisis.

Caucus chairman Mel Watt of North Carolina called the meeting “very cordial” but said proof of Bush’s intentions would emerge in the State of the Union speech next week and when he unveils his budget a few days later.

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