Politics Mondays: Exclusive Q & A With Congressman Elijah Cummings, Chairman, Congressional Black Caucus

If you ask around Washington D.C. about Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) chairperson, Congressman Elijah Cummings, you will more often than not hear the words "real", "sincere", "concerned", and "candid" used to describe the four-term Congressman who represents Maryland's seventh district, which includes the city of Baltimore. Even among those who disagree with him, the opinion that he has been a passionate and consistent advocate on behalf of Black Americans and the poor is maintained. Now, as head of the Congressional Black Caucus, Elijah Cummings has assumed his highest profile position to date, and at a time where the United States Of America is at war, hovering around economic recession and in a continuing debate over race relations within her borders.

BlackElectorate.com Publisher, Cedric Muhammad, sat down with Chairman Cummings, in his Washington, D.C. office, for an exclusive and wide-ranging discussion regarding the Congressman's vision for the Congressional Black Caucus, the relationship between Blacks and the Democratic Party, Africa, felon disenfranchisement and America's racial divide.


Cedric Muhammad: First, Congressman, I would like to take this time to congratulate you on winning the chairmanship of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC). As an important but very basic question I would like to begin by asking you just how do you see the function of the Congressional Black Caucus by Black America and the Black electorate?

Rep. Elijah Cummings: Thank you, well first of all the Caucus is the one major national organization that is elected to represent our people and altogether we represent over 26 million people. I don't necessarily know of too many groups in the world that have that type of role. That is very significant. Our duty is to be a prime tool to open up opportunities for our people and make sure that we address those issues that go to the center of their lives. We are representatives in a government where those that we represent can't come on the floor of Congress and they can't meet with President Bush - not that we necessarily have been able to either, as I am sure you know of our difficulty in getting the President to sit down with us...

Cedric Muhammad: (laughter) I know...

Rep. Elijah Cummings: ...so we have to realize that the people trust us. And as representatives we have a duty to take that trust and treat it with the same importance that is demanded when one is making decisions in their own lives. And if more of us here in Congress treated our responsibility like that, the world would be a better place. For example, when we address the attack underway right now on Head Start - I think that if people were making the decision as if their own child was involved, they would naturally decide that Head Start should be as strong as it could be.

The Caucus has also become known as not only the conscience of the U.S. Congress but really, the conscience of the country, because we bring a level of sensitivity, and a certain level of statesmanship. I define a politician as one who looks to the next election and a statesman as one who looks to the next 50 to 100 years and thinks of how their actions today will affect unborn generations. We have had a lot on our shoulders. Not only do we have a duty to pass legislation that is meaningful to our constituents but we have a duty to be a spokesperson speaking to them as their leaders on all kinds of issues that are meaningful to their lives but also as people who (can sympathize and empathize with them). It is one thing for me to speak as a Congressman to them but it is quite another to speak to them out of personal experience. It is one thing to say that glaucoma is a problem in our community but it is another to tell them that my mother developed glaucoma. When I speak like that, they see me not as a Congressman but as a "son" talking to them. There is a real relationship that is sacred. The representative must know how to speak to a person that splits verbs and may not be able to read. So, we realize that this is a blessing and it is sacred to be in this position. And finally, let me say this - in the Bible in John 15:16, Jesus is speaking to his disciples and he says: 'you may have thought that you chose me, but I chose you.' In other words he is saying that there are some people that are chosen to do a certain job. And that is what I really believe we are - chosen - we have a lot of responsibility. And I think that sometimes people expect more of us than we are capable of providing. But we try anyway.

Cedric Muhammad: Building a bit on that - I have been covering the Caucus regularly for over three years and in that time I have noticed a conflict. There are moments that I will see the Congressional Black Caucus' position; the Democratic Party position; and the Republican Party's position. I can differentiate between the Republican and Democratic Party position but sometimes I have been disappointed by the lack of differentiation between the CBC and the Democratic Party on what I call "Black-centered" issues. One excellent example of this was election reform, where I was critical of the fact that the CBC voluntarily made the election reform legislation of Rep. John Conyers subservient to that which was embraced as the "Democratic Party" bill and the bill that came out of the Senate. And another issue is that of economics. I see 40% teenage Black unemployment and a 12% general unemployment for Blacks. Yet, from the CBC I see a demonstrated responsiveness to the larger American plight with unemployment but only passing references to the Black nuances of the situation. Am I wrong to think this or if I am right, where does this problem I describe come from? And, how do you deal with balancing being a member of the Democratic Party and the Congressional Black Caucus?

Rep. Elijah Cummings: I think that is an outstanding question. And I think that is a great example - election reform. I know that practically every member of the Black Caucus wanted the Conyers bill to be passed. But we also realize that we are working with a lot of other folks and we wanted a situation where we at least got some tool to work with. It was clear to us that although we fought with everything that we had on the Conyers bill that it wasn't going to happen. It is a sad thing but we don't control a damn thing (in a Republican Congress). We don't call the votes and we don't make the agenda. And so what we wanted to do was at least have a tool to work with. And the reason why the Conyers bill is such a good example is that a lot of people...for example when the NAACP made their report card, that issue was the only one that stopped me from getting 100%. We had the Conyers bill that went as far as we wanted to go and then the question is do we embrace the Nay-Hoyer bill (The election reform bill supported by the Democratic Party establishment) - which didn't do all that we wanted it to do? We knew its shortcomings but we realized that if we didn't do Nay-Hoyer, and Conyers wasn't going to happen, then we would have nothing. But from the NAACP's view, if you voted for the Nay-Hoyer bill they gave you a minus grade because they felt that we should have gone for the best bill. We felt that way too, but when presented with the choice between striking against Nay-Hoyer and having nothing, or supporting Nay-Hoyer which was something to work with, we chose to support the later. And I think you will find this type of thing happening a lot. But the part of the story that the public gets, doesn't reveal all that goes on behind the doors. They don't know that Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson and other members of the Congressional Black Caucus spent a phenomenal amount of time working with the Senate and with Hillary Shelton of the NAACP and others in the civil rights community really hammering it out. And we really worked to come up with something. And this is the challenge - you can come up with something that isn't exactly what you want but look toward the future to massage it and make it better, or do you walk out and say we will have nothing and everything remains the same as it is? That is a difficult problem for us. It is a problem that is so hard to explain to the public because they do not know all of that and even if you did explain it; it would take so long to do it.

Cedric Muhammad: Well, this is interesting what you just said. And chairman, in defense of the Black Caucus and what you just said, I actually spoke to Hillary Shelton of the NAACP - who you describe as being somewhat critical of how the CBC voted in the House - right before the Senate passed their version of election reform, and he, at that point had capitulated, even to the point where they accepted, grudgingly, the unpopular identification provisions in the Senate bill...

Rep. Elijah Cummings: Yeah, we didn't want those identification provisions either...

Cedric Muhammad: But he said exactly what you just said to me, that the Senate bill was the best they could get and that they would have to go with it. So, I find it interesting that the NAACP would be critical of something that you did in the House, on election reform, that they would later do in the Senate.

Rep. Elijah Cummings: And that is why your question, really hits me emotionally because I live in an inner city neighborhood, intentionally. I live in the inner city of Baltimore and I have lived there for 22 years. And I see what you are talking about with unemployment. The other day I was riding along on my way to Washington D.C., and I counted 37 Black men on one block and I know all of them were unemployed. And if all of them were not unemployed I guarantee that 25 of them were. So it is very painful to me when I see the unemployment numbers. So the challenge is to try and figure out how do we get something. So in reference to the lack of difference that you see between the CBC position and the Democratic Party position, there is a lot that has already taken place that you don't even know about. It is like family. You try to scrap things out and beat up on each other on the inside, but then you have to come out united in order to get the votes that we need to get to pass things. That doesn't mean that there are not fights in the family. That does not mean that there are not struggles but the fact is that it looks that way when it gets presented in public. But I can tell you that we have fought the Democrats inside and there is something that is so important that is happening now, where you run into a little bit of problem with here. There are a number of issues that we are concerned with the Democrats about. Like, we want to make sure that the Democrats are hiring African-Americans. That has been a big deal for me, personally, because I have a daughter who is 20 years old, who just graduated and I see what she went through to get a job. And then I look at some of the things that Republicans are doing and they intentionally do them to get a nice photo opportunity and they have the power for the public jobs...

Cedric Muhammad: Sure, all the patronage is their's...

Rep. Elijah Cummings: Right, right. We don't have as much as they have. And they have the kind of donors that produce. But if I am trying to look out for one of my Black constituents, I have to go through 50 million changes to do that. But if I am in the Republican Party on the other hand, I have donors who are giving to me, supporting me and who have companies and if I make one phone call they are able to do something. So it is a real struggle. But I don't want the viewers of BlackElectorate.com to get the impression that the CBC are just a group of Black people who just go along to get along because it is actually the opposite of that.

Cedric Muhammad: But see, you made a brilliant distinction earlier between the politician and the statesman, that I want you to consider something in terms of. We at BlackElectorate.com supported Ralph Nader for President and a Democratic control of the House Of Representatives and we caught flak for the Nader endorsement but we thought that getting you all in the CBC in key committee positions was much more important than getting Al Gore elected as president. But what I saw was Congressman Conyers who is the strongest reparations advocate in the Congress, having to shout down the only supporter of reparations, Ralph Nader, among all of the presidential candidates. And now, today, I am already starting to hear some people say that "a vote for Sharpton is a vote for Bush" and what I am worried about is where is the principle - the line in the sand where we say that there is an item-line Black agenda that is worth more than a pragmatic political victory for the Democratic Party? What would be the line in the sand for you - where you would say to the Party enough is enough?

Rep. Elijah Cummings: I think that is a hell of a question and a very complicated question because I think the lines depend on the issues, really. But I can tell you in regards to the 2000 election and Ralph Nader - I have a lot of respect for Ralph Nader. But at the same time I think the concern of mine and other members of the Congressional Black Caucus is not whether Nader was "our kind of guy" but rather if you have one candidate like Nader who is near the left and actually right where most members of the Black Caucus are; and then say, you have Al Gore who is just left of center or say, even, center. And then you have a George W. Bush who is just way out there on the right - off the charts. What our concern was, in that situation is whether, of course, Nader would take enough votes away from Gore to cause the far-right candidate to win. If you want to talk about lines in the sand? I would have taken a Gore - but it is a difficult decision - but I don't think a Gore would have told his lawyer to file a brief against the University of Michigan's president. I don't think a Gore would have tried to take apart the environment. I don't think a Gore would have been pushing real hard on this Patriot Bill and now Patriot II. Do you follow what I am saying?

Cedric Muhammad: I do.

Rep. Elijah Cummings: So when you talk about a line in the sand, the line for me is what gives me the best possibility or probability of getting the results I need for the people I represent...

Cedric Muhammad: This point is tangentially related to what I am about to say. You are so right on the University of Michigan briefing and what Al Gore probabaly would have done, but then I can actually say that when it came time to count the undervotes, and especially the overvotes in Duval County in Florida, we couldn't count on Al Gore to tell his lawyer to make the right arguments; and I have spoken to Donna Brazile about this and the NAACP and other CBC members. You all, as best as I can determine, tried sincerely to get Al Gore to make the right argument - one that would reflect the Black nuance of what happened in Florida and which could have helped him win...

Rep. Elijah Cummings: Yeah, I have a historic picture of us trying to tell him (Al Gore) this. He is standing right there and it is 10 of us there - have you seen it?

Cedric Muhammad: No, but I would love to though! I certainly can imagine it.

Rep. Elijah Cummings: Yeah, I mean, in the photo I am looking up at Al, you can't see him, but I am looking up at him, and he is saying, "I don't want you all to do this..." So I know. But you see, certain people react to crisis based upon their convenience. In other words, if it is convenient for me to help you when you are bleeding, I will. But if I have to go to the movies with my girlfriend, or if I have got something else I have got to do, then I won't help you. So, I understand your point about a 'line in the sand'. There are certain things that you do as a matter of principle. And that Florida vote situation was so egregious and such an affront to this thing called democracy, that in those instances I think you make the statement. I wish Al Gore had helped us out and I wish our Democratic senators had helped us out and at least given us the two hours of debate and as a matter of fact, I think the American public would have felt better if there had at least been a debate on the situation. But we never got to do that. So that was an instance where I was a bit disappointed. Not so much with Al Gore, because I think what was happening to him was that he was getting pressured by a whole lot of people to 'do this, or you look like a bad loser' but I think a senator could have easily gotten up and said, 'look y'all can say what you want to but I think there should at least be a discussion for two hours of something that will go down in history for the next million years, in the hopes that this will never happen again.'

Cedric Muhammad: I thought that the attention that the Congressional Black Caucus gave to Africa, in that special order, which was broadcast live on C-Span was powerful. I just want to talk about it now about Africa. What is the core interest that the CBC sees relative to Africa? In terms of the Black community and in terms of the United States.

Rep. Elijah Cummings: Well, we see Africa in terms of us. We are very much aware that Africa gave birth to us. It is like our mother. When they say 'Mother Africa' that is true. We all came from Africa - in one form or another. And this is a great question, because - did you read the speech that President Bush made in Goree Island?

Cedric Muhammad: Yeah, we linked prominently to it on the website. I don't know how closely people read the text but I thought he dropped some bombs in there...

Rep. Elijah Cummings: Yeah, there is some interesting stuff in there...

Cedric Muhammad: He mentions the Exodus...

Rep. Elijah Cummings:...the Middle Passage, the whole bit

Cedric Muhammad: Yeah, there is so much in the language, that I would really like to know who wrote it for him?

Rep. Elijah Cummings: Right. I think that President Bush, in that statement, at least in the little bit of history that he did give, explained why Africa means so much to us because we were ripped away from our culture from our land and so now when we see people in Africa suffering and dying and like in countries like Nigeria and Zambia, making less than $300 a year, and complaining about being exploited, in some cases, by their own rulers; not only is there an appeal to that close relationship between us here and the continent of our origin, but there is also a natural humanitarian sense that comes forward because we want to make the world a better place. The question is what do we do on our watch. I have often said that 100 years ago none of us was here. 100 years from now none of us will be here. What then do we do while we are here. So we have people that are suffering that look like us and there are people who are suffering that don't look like us. And we pass millions and billions of dollars every year. But now, I wonder, why should it be that when those who look like us are suffering that the rules of foreign aid should change? So you really have three areas here that are pulling on us - the historical relationship, the humanitarian responsibility and what I call the 'potential situation' where you know that if certain things are done, Africa will do well. This is somewhat analogous to you being in a situation where if you could just get a loan from me, you could get to a job up the street and do well. But without that loan, nothing happens. And that is where it is in Africa. A lot of people don't give us credit but it was the Congressional Black Caucus that pushed for the billions of dollars in aid to Africa to deal with the issue of HIV/AIDS. In fact the text of the initiative pushed now by the President is from something almost word-for-word that we sent to the White House years ago. So, now as you know we are having trouble with the appropriators getting the appropriation for the $3 billion dollars that is supposed to go to Africa - $15 billion over five years. They can hardly get up to $1.5 billion for this year. We realize that we have to be the conscience of the process.

Cedric Muhammad: I wrote an editorial at BlackElectorate.com, I think over three years ago ("E-Letter To African.com and Horace G. Campbell Re: The Democratic Party And Africa"), where I said the problem with getting things for Africa is that there is no lobby in Black America that is the equivalent of AIPAC among Jewish-Americans. We followed the two controversial congressional races last year- with the incumbents Rep. Earl Hilliard and Rep. Cynthia McKinney being opposed by insurgents backed by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and we saw the tension that created, especially among Black and Jewish members of Congress and the CBC and AIPAC. I know you have met with Howard Kohr (head of AIPAC) and I also attended the breakfast last summer coordinated by Rabbi Marc Schneier to bring Black and Jewish members of Congress together, and it had some tense moments. But what I saw fundamentally lacking in that affair, from the Black Caucus, who were being presented with a litmus test of their support for Israel by AIPAC, was a response that would put certain international issues on a par with how AIPAC and Jewish members of Congress raise the issue of the interests of Israel. So I wanted to know from you, do you agree with that depiction of the problem and is there a void in lobbying for Africa? And do you think that may be part of the tension that exists when groups who are lobbying on behalf of foreign governments come to the Black Caucus expecting support, and there is nothing that the Black Caucus comes back with?

Rep. Elijah Cummings: The Black Caucus has met with the Jewish members of Congress and expressed that it has for the most part, been supportive of Israel, and that we have issues of concern relative to Africa; and they have listened and their response has been well...

Cedric Muhammad:...a work-in-progress

Rep. Elijah Cummings: Yes, a work-in-progress. And as you know, we have some very strong advocates for Africa in the Caucus - Mr. Donald Payne, Maxine Waters, Gregory Meeks, Rep. Jefferson - these are the core supporters for Africa. We think that our job has to be that we continue to advocate for Africa. I wish there were more organizations pushing for Africa. I don't know that we have something that is the equivalent of AIPAC. AIPAC delivers a lot of money and I don't know that we have anybody whose advocacy for Africa involves putting out that kind of money. But I think that is something that we have to continue to work on. But right now the Caucus has to remain very vigilant and we have to try to make up for those areas where there is no organization like AIPAC, yet. Many African-centered groups are on their way trying to get there but there is not any organization concerned with Africa that has that kind of financial backing. So there is a void.

Cedric Muhammad: Moving to an subject that I know you feel passionately about, I just wanted to get your take on the felony disenfranchisement issue. I generally hear a concern from all of the Black Caucus members that I speak to about the issue but there is almost an honest attitude that I pick up that reflects a political perception that since these individuals don't vote there is a limit to the short-term political capital that a Black member of Congress is going to devote to the issue. So, although Black politicians are emotionally sensitive to the problem, how do you make it a pragmatic concern where a person says 'yeah I can win an election by campaigning openly on the issue of repealing felony disenfranchisement laws and working with the states that have these laws on the books'?

Rep. Elijah Cummings: That's a hard one. That is a hard one to deal with. And that is another case where I think that people in the Caucus become very strong advocates for an issue that is generally not popular. And when I say 'not popular' I don't necessarily mean the Black community, but I am referring to the American electorate in general. There are a whole lot of people who don't want people who have served time and have a record to vote. There are some Black people that don't want to see that. People say, well, 'why should they vote if they have hurt people or committed crimes?'. And this is an area where Black people, for the most part, are people of second, third, fourth and fifth chance because we know that people had to give us a second, third or fourth chance in life. And what I think you find in the Caucus is that most people say to themselves not so much how do I get these votes from those people that would come if these people would become franchised, but the Caucus is thinking more in terms of how do I get this person back on track in life...

Cedric Muhammad:...more in terms of redemption.

Rep. Elijah Cummings: yeah, and the concern is that after these individuals have served their time, that they should feel that they are part of society again. And returning to them the right to vote is one way of doing that. We also look at it from perspective that a person still lives in this democracy even after they have served their time, so should they forever be paying for their crime? And the Caucus is more sensitive to that issue and will continue to be.

Cedric Muhammad: I am not sure that you caught this or saw the implication that I did in it. But in the opinion that Sandra Day O'Connor wrote for the University of Michigan Supreme Court case; she made reference to this 25-year period in which she thought we had a real hope to get over racism and a need for certain programs to combat it. I saw a lot in that. How do you feel about this proposal that people like Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer has written about, and that I have written about that states that if Whites felt comfortable that repair for slavery and discrimination could occur at a time certain, they would be willing to make a "trade" - the end of affirmative action, minority set-aside programs etc...in exchange for reparations. Have you thought about that "deal" that many of us see coming on the horizon?

Rep. Elijah Cummings: No I haven't thought about it. I am not sure about this exactly. You know, Randall Robinson's book, The Debt, had a lot of meaning for me. But the question of reparations is thought of in so many different ways. Many people think of reparations in terms of 40 acres and a mule. I look at it more as trying to make up in every way possible for all of the things that we have been denied. It would be more of a supportive foundation for affirmative action, so it would come in many forms of ways to open up the doors of opportunity. First of all, let's go back to Sandra Day O'Connor. As I read it the 25 years was a hopeful 25 years. And I am hopeful that in 25 years we will have a color-blind society too. I am usually optimistic about a lot of things but I am not so optimistic about that.

I was giving a speech this morning about my father. He had a first-grade education and was a sharecropper on the land where his forefathers were enslaved. But his family came to Baltimore in 1945 and made a life for themselves and they struggled and scratched and clawed to make a life for themselves and their seven children. And he grew up in Clarendon County, South Carolina - home of the Briggs v. Elliot case that challenged school segregation. The Briggs case was a part of Brown v. Board of Education, as you are aware. Many people forget that there were several cases that were actually a part of Brown v. Board of Education. And Congressman Clyburn (Black Congressman from South Carolina) was telling us that at the school where my father would have been educated, there are only two changes. One change is that the school is no longer a wooden shack, it is a brick building; and two, it has air conditioning. But the quality of education and the deprivation of materials and things of that nature is still on the same level. And I am going to tell you what I think about every day. When I get tired of this - and my staff thinks that I work them to death - but when I get tired, I think about my father who was present here, the day I got sworn in. You know, I got one hand up, being sworn in with Newt Gingrich there, and I had my daddy up in the balcony. And when it was over my father came down and tears were just rolling down his face. My father is a big man, bigger than me. So I said to him, 'why are you crying man, I ain't never seen you cry...', we were close. And I said 'you are that happy?'. And he says, 'No, I am happy, but I am crying for something else.' So I said, 'well, why are you crying?'. And he says, 'now I know what I could have been'. He had gone almost 70 years and he was just now seeing what he could have been. And you know that is the problem with discrimination. It is literally really criminal. That I would take away somebody's right...

Cedric Muhammad:...to be.

Rep. Elijah Cummings:to be! To be, all that God meant one to be. I mean, look at my CBC communications director here, (Doug Thornell present during the interview), he is nice-looking, sharp, 27-years old. But he could easily be in some jail, unable to contribute. I mean, that could easily happen to any of us. Look at how many of us are sitting in jail unable to contribute, sitting there writing jailhouse letters to their loved ones. You know, I wrote a speech for Howard University recently, where I was talking about the third reconstruction. I talk about the first reconstruction that we all know about. Then I talk about the second one with Brown v. Board of Education and working through all of the Jim Crow-era stuff, and now it seems like they are trying to push us back again and now it looks like we are going to go through another reconstruction. Then I think about a speech that I made at a detention center - Cheltenham Youth Facility - in Prince Georges County, and where I told these Brothers about how, when I was a little boy of 7 years of age, and I am now 52, they used to send people here. And I told them, 'y'all are marching to the same drum'. And a lot of that again, has to deal with discrimination. And I think that discrimination has a lot to do with economics and I think that as long as people are striving - both Black and White - to benefit in this society and get in good standing, I think you are going to have discrimination. So, what do we have to do? We have come full circle, you asked the question of : what is the role of the Caucus? The Congressional Black Caucus has to try to fight every day to make sure that we at least move this society toward a level playing field. Will we do it in my lifetime? I don't know. I doubt it. But I do know that I was moved - I, Elijah Cummings - much closer to that level playing field than my father was. And that is why that story I told you means so much to me. My father actually saw what he could have been. And now my daughter, she graduated from Howard with honors. And I know a lot of that has to do with her believing what she could be based upon what she had already seen. Ok, and now my little daughter, I look at her. So, the question for those of us in the Caucus is often, how do you stay on course when you see so much that is negative? And as I have often described what it is like here - it is like people with bows and arrows shooting at you, and you are trying to duck, and make progress at the same time. And I just think you have to believe. And you get these encouraging words from time to time. And my little daughter just got her green belt in Tae Kwan Do, and so I asked her, 'what do you have to do to get this green belt?' and so she showed me some little moves and whatever, you know. And I asked her was that all, and she said no. She said, 'I had to break a board that was three-quarters of an inch thick with my bare hand'. And so I said, 'well, how did you do that - were you scared or worried about it hurting your hand?' She said 'No.' I said 'well how did you do that?' And she said, 'Daddy, you just have to believe.'

Cedric Muhammad: Man, that is beautiful. At 8-years old....

Rep. Elijah Cummings: At 8! And so what we have to do, is we in the Caucus have to create opportunities for our children so that they can believe. We have to give them hoping skills. Please, put coping aside, we just have to get them hope! The way you give them hoping skills is to give them as firm a foundation as you can. People keep asking me why are you all so upset over the Head Start program? We understand that our children cannot get very far unless they have some hoping skills. And you cannot tell me that a little kid, like the one I saw graduating at 4-years old from the Union Baptist Church Head Start center reading at a fourth-grade level ain't got no hope! It is going to take an awful lot to dash hope in a young person like that. I say all that to say that everything that we do, is about giving help, but whether it is Africa, or helping minority businesses, it is about giving hope, Because when that man has his business growing and he is able to support his family and his wife stops telling him, 'go get a job'; that gives him hope. She sees the progress and the children see it. There is a bigger picture involved...

Cedric Muhammad:...it is a modeling process.

Rep. Elijah Cummings: Exactly, there you go. But is it easy? No. Is it upsetting when somebody, Cedric, with your intelligence and your sharpness, says well, 'you know I saw where it looked like the CBC was just going along with the program'? Is that easy to take? No. But my Daddy used to ask us one question, when we didn't feel like going to school and we didn't feel like doing this or that; he would say, well what is the alternative? That is the question: what is the alternative? What are you going to do, stay at home, don't get an education, don't get a job so that you can't take your girlfriend to the movies? So I think that if there wasn't a Black Caucus we would have to invent one. Are we perfect? Naw. And do we have our own little struggles with each other? Yeah. But as you saw in that special session on Africa, the question is are we, the CBC, able to come together and do something special? Yeah, I say, and we do it every day.

Cedric Muhammad: Congressman, finally, what do you make of the idea among some Blacks that 'a vote for Sharpton is a vote for Bush', similar to what we heard in 2000. That talk is being used by some to encourage Blacks, at this early point to line up behind Howard Dean, as the non-mainstream Democrat who has the best chance to win. But aside from what I think about the fallacious reasoning of that thesis, I have to wonder what these same "progressive" Blacks have to say about Howard Dean's dismissive attitude - expressed in a passing comment on the June 22nd edition of 'Meet The Press' - toward the ambassador of Rwanda (conservative columnist (Bob Novak has been foremost in publicly writing about the remark and its potential negative affect on Black voters).

Rep. Elijah Cummings: (shaking his head) Yeah, yeah I heard about that (Howard Dean's remark). I really hadn't heard the 'vote for Sharpton is a vote for Bush' idea. Well, I think that it is great that Sharpton and Moseley-Braun are in the race. And at this point, I don't know how the votes will turn out. Right now, I need the issues put out there, not a vote-count estimate. And I know that Rev. Sharpton is going to put the issues out there and he is going to force people as he already has, to deal with them. Without Rev. Sharpton and Carol Moseley-Braun I don't know that we get the urban agenda on the plate; I don't know that we get the issues of disparities in healthcare and education, or Black unemployment into the debate. So we need Rev. Sharpton and I am glad he is there.

Cedric Muhammad: Thank You Congressman.

Rep. Elijah Cummings: Thank You.

Monday, July 14, 2003