WaPo) — A top aide to President Obama got a public grilling Monday night from black lawmakers and civil rights leaders, who vented frustration at a jobs forum here that the administration was not doing more to directly help distressed black communities.
Tensions rose when Don Graves, executive director of the President’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness, told a lively crowd of hundreds in a black church sanctuary that Obama was “focused on every community across the country.”
When he added that “certain communities have been hit harder than other communities,” one lawmaker pressed him for specificity.
“Let me hear you say ‘black,’” said Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.).
As the crowd erupted in cheers, Graves responded quietly: “Black, African-American, Latino, these communities have been hard hit.”
The exchange illustrated an emerging tension between some black lawmakers and the country’s first black president over the disproportionately poor economic conditions in the African-American community, where unemployment stands at 16 percent.
Obama and his aides say all Americans including blacks benefit from broad-based policies. But many black lawmakers and civil rights leaders want direct, targeted aid — and some worry that Obama’s pursuit of white independent voters might make him reluctant to advocate for blacks.