President Obama said Thursday that it would be wrong for him to narrowly focus on the troubles blacks face in the recession, rejecting criticism from the Congressional Black Caucus that the government is ignoring the economic plight of minorities.
"The most important thing I can do for the African-American community is the same thing I can do for the American community, period, and that is get the economy going again and get people hiring again," Obama told USA TODAY and the Detroit Free Press. Both newspapers are owned by Gannett.
On Wednesday, 10 members of the black caucus boycotted a key House committee vote on financial regulations. The group said it would push harder for Congress and the White House to tackle specific problems including an unemployment rate for blacks that was 15.7% in October, which was higher than the national rate of 10.2%.
We can no longer afford for our public policy to be defined by the worldview of Wall Street," those caucus members said in a statement Wednesday. "Policy for the least of these must be integrated into everything that we do."
Obama said in the interview, held before a White House jobs summit, that he agrees with some of the caucus' goals, such as making sure black-owned small businesses have access to credit. But he stressed he needed to keep a broader view: "It's a mistake to start thinking in terms of particular ethnic segments of the United States rather than to think that we are all in this together and we are all going to get out of this together."
Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., a former caucus leader, could not be reached for comment Thursday. She said Wednesday that the 42-member caucus could use its leverage as a threat on close House votes. She also said the group's concerns go beyond jobs, and one summit "does not solve the problem."