Cummings skips briefing by Bush on Africa trip

THE BALTIMORE SUN

WASHINGTON - Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, a Maryland Democrat who is chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, turned down a White House invitation for a briefing yesterday on President Bush's trip to Africa, complaining that Bush has repeatedly rebuffed requests to meet with the entire caucus.

Bush met with the caucus in January 2001, after his inauguration, and told the group, "This will be the beginning of, hopefully, a lot of meetings."

Cummings, who was elected chairman of the caucus in December, said he knows of at least four futile caucus requests for a second meeting - "and it's probably been more than that."

"As a result," Cummings wrote in a letter to Bush, "you and your administration have had less opportunity to receive the expertise, wisdom and insights of our 39 members on a wide variety of significant national and international issues."

He again asked Bush to meet with the entire caucus, which has been sharply critical of the president on many issues, before Congress adjourns for its August recess.

A White House spokeswoman, Claire Buchan, said three caucus members - Cummings, Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee, a Texas Democrat, who is the vice chairwoman of the group, and Rep. Donald M. Payne of New Jersey, the senior Democrat on the House subcommittee on Africa - were invited to yesterday's briefing by the president. Of those three, only Payne attended the session along with three other House members and six senators.

Speaking of his refusal to attend, Cummings said, "I would not necessarily call it a protest. It's a call for respect."

Besides Africa, Black Caucus members want to talk with the president about a wide range of "issues that go to the center of people's lives," such as education, health care, Head Start and unemployment, he said.

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