Published August 17, 2011
U.S. House Rep. Maxine Waters is asking black voters who are struggling with an unemployment rate nearly twice the national average to "unleash" her and other members of the Congressional Black Caucus on President Obama.
The California Democrat, speaking at a raucous town hall in Detroit hosted by the CBC on Tuesday, said she doesn't want to attack the president from his base unless the base gives her the go-ahead.
"If we go after the president too hard, you're going after us," Waters said. "When you tell us it's all right and you unleash us and you're ready to have this conversation, we're ready to have the conversation."
Judging by the reaction of the audience, including someone yelling to Waters, "It's all right," the president will be hearing very soon from the congresswoman and her fellow caucus members.
Since Obama took office, he has resisted pressure from the CBC to create jobs programs specifically targeting blacks, saying that improving the entire economy will help all groups.
Waters said the Congressional Black Caucus "loves" the president, but it is frustrated.
"We're getting tired y'all," she said. "We want to give him every opportunity. But our people are hurting. The unemployment is unconscionable. ... When you let us know it is time to let go, we'll let go."
The public outcry came amid several efforts to amp up minority voters. The CBC is on a five-city "For the People Jobs Initiative" this month.
Two former supporters of the president, PBS host Tavis Smiley and Princeton University Cornel West, went on a poverty tour last week highlighting how they believe the president has failed the nation's most vulnerable citizens, including low-income blacks.
Black voters were crucial in helping elect Sen. Barack Obama in 2008 and the president will need as much support from the demographic voting bloc in his reelection bid as support falls off elsewhere due to the weak economy.
But Obama's support among black voters is weakening too.
A Washington Post/ABC News poll found that 86 percent of blacks approve of the president's performance. But only 54 percent said the president's policies have improved the economy, a steep drop from 77 percent last October.
The unemployment rate African Americans is 15.9 percent while nationwide it stands at 9.2 percent.
Obama is at the end of his three-day bus tour through the Midwest in which he emphasized his prescription for the nation's economic woes. He announced on the tour that after Labor Day he will deliver what is being billed as a major speech on job creation and deficit reduction.
At her town hall meeting, Waters questioned why Obama hasn't gone to any black neighborhoods during his bus tour.
"We don't know what the strategy is. We don't know why on this trip that he's in the United States now, he's not in any black communities," she said.
Obama is also getting heat from Latinos, another significant electorate, who protested his immigration policies in six cities Wednesday and threatened to abandon him on Election Day.
Protesters are up in arms about the president's record on deportations and Secure Communities, the controversial program that requires local law enforcement to share information of people arrested with immigration officials. The Department of Homeland Security said earlier this month that it would expand the program nationwide by 2013.
Obama has repeatedly blamed Republicans in Congress for blocking comprehensive immigration reform.