OTR Interviews

Has Pres. Obama ignored unemployment in the African-American community?

Rep. Allen West sounds off on president's handling of unemployment in the African-American community


This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," January 17, 2012. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich makes sharp accusations against President Obama. Speaker Gingrich is accusing President Obama of failing to pay attention to the problem of African-American unemployment.


CHARLIE ROSE, CO-HOST, "CBS THIS MORNING": The point was made in your comments about, it's better for black Americans to seek a job than it is to seek food stamps -- and many people stepped forward to say, Isn't that simply true for all Americans who are desperately looking for jobs? That's what they want, not just black Americans.

NEWT GINGRICH, GOP PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, look, it is true for -- it is true for all Americans. It's true for native Americans. It's true for Asian-Americans, true for Latino Americans, true for white Americans and true for black Americans.

The original statement, however, was in the context of saying I would love to be invited by the NAACP to come to their convention because the president has particularly failed to pay attention to the tremendous unemployment -- we've had 43 percent black teenage unemployment. That is a disaster because it sets up a social pattern that's very hard for young people to go out and get jobs, get in the job market.


VAN SUSTEREN: Is Speaker Gingrich right or wrong? Congressman Allen West joins us. Good evening, sir.

REP. ALLEN WEST, R-FLA.: Good evening. How're you doing, Greta?

VAN SUSTEREN: Very well. All right, always very touchy subject when we get into the issue of race in this country...

WEST: It shouldn't be touchy.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, I know, but it is, I mean, because it's, like -- you know, you want to make sure that you ask the right question in the right way. Having said that, let me ask you -- Speaker Gingrich said that President Obama failed to pay attention to problems of black unemployment in this country. Is he right or is he wrong? And should it not be, you know, divided along race lines that way?

WEST: Well, he is absolutely right. When you look at the statistics and the facts speak for themselves, the national average of unemployment right is 8.5 percent. In the black community, it's 15.8 percent, and that's down from close to being 17 percent.

For black adult males, it's 16.4 percent unemployment, and for black teenagers, 16 to 19 percent -- I mean 16 to 19 years of age, it's 40.7 percent. As a matter of fact, the chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus once said that if anyone else was in the White House other than President Obama, we'd be marching on the White House.

So we do have a problem. And I think that we have a greater problem in the United States of America when we believe that only certain people can talk about certain issues. This is a big issue for all of America.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, you mentioned the current unemployment for African-Americans is 15.8 percent. Also as a frame of reference, on January '09, when President Obama took office, it was 12.6 percent. So it's a rise of 3.2 percent, at least according to the numbers.

I'm curious, though, what could he do or what should he be doing differently to address the particularly high unemployment rate in the African-American community?

WEST: Well, I think that you need to look at what you could do differently for unemployment all across the United States of America with the right type of tax policies that will incentive growth, especially for our small businesses, and that will help in the inner city. You have to look at also the regulatory policies that can help those businesses to be able to thrive. You look at Dodd-Frank and the fact that a lot of our small community bank are not able to lend the proper moneys that -- to start up small businesses, which is what I'm hearing down in my district.

And then there are several other things that he can look at, how we can incentive, you know, other people to look at, you know, black businesses and with, you know, lower capital gains taxes and dividends, returns, so that you can once again incentivize those things to happen. But we're not.

You know, I think it was pretty offensive when the president stood up before the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation and told them to take off their bedroom slippers and put on their marching boots and get out there and work for him. Well, right now, we're not seeing a president that's working for that black community, which I think about 97 percent voted for him in 2008.

VAN SUSTEREN: Is there any doubt, though, that 97 percent that voted for him in 2008 would ever come out and vote for a Speaker Gingrich or a Governor Romney or a Senator Santorum or Governor Perry? I mean, so -- I mean, even if he does nothing, he's going to get that vote.

WEST: Well, see, I...

VAN SUSTEREN: Any Democratic...


VAN SUSTEREN: You don't think that's true?

WEST: No. I would disagree because there was a poll that came out, I believe it was The Washington Times or Washington Post last September that said that the strongly approved number in the black community that was once 83 percent had dropped down to 58 percent. As a matter of fact, next week Monday, we're going to have a black conservative forum in the capitol.

And I think that now's the time to start looking at the difference between who we are as conservatives and what the liberal social welfare policies have done for the black community. It's failed. You know, we, as conservatives, believe that every child in America or any person coming to America gets a ladder, and with that ladder they can climb to whatever heights of achievement.

But we also believe there should be a safety net because you're going to slip off and you need to be able to bounce back up. But I think what we're seeing is a sense of dependency. Instead of that safety net, you become -- you get a hammock.

VAN SUSTEREN: You know, I did poverty law for a number of years before I got into TV. And I guess that there were many people who had hoped that President Obama would be an inspiration to some in the African- American community who really have been down and out or haven't had a shot or haven't had a chance or anything, you know, really need it because, you know, everybody needs to do well.

Has he been an inspiration? I mean, is it unfair to expect him to be an inspiration to those, number one? And number two, has he provided that inspiration? He certainly did when he -- you know, at -- you know, when he was running.

WEST: Well, I think that rhetoric is different from providing inspirational leadership and visionary leadership. You know, I've seen in my military career many a guy that can come in and talk a good game, but as we say in the military, If you're going to talk the talk, you got to be able to walk the walk.

And when you look at the fact that you've seen a 41 percent increase in food stamp recipients, you've seen a 16 percent increase of Americans on the poverty rolls, 6.4 million more Americans, that's a failure. And I think that that's something where the president has to sit back and look at his policies.

And I think that everyone has a right, being it a Speaker Gingrich or yourself or anyone else, to say that there's something wrong. You look across Washington, D.C., at some of these inner city communities. You know, we shouldn't have these type of things happening within eyeshot of the White House.

VAN SUSTEREN: Congressman, always nice to see you. Welcome back to Washington.

WEST: Absolutely.

VAN SUSTEREN: Nice to see you, sir.

WEST: Thank you.