Congressional Black Caucus presses president in meeting

WASHINGTON — WASHINGTON -- Members of the Congressional Black Caucus pressed President Bush on post-Hurricane Katrina reconstruction aid, the war in Iraq and social programs during an hourlong meeting at the White House yesterday.

The Democratic House members said afterward that they would take Bush at his word that he would consider their concerns about the slow pace of reconstruction in New Orleans and his proposal to make budget cuts in federal health care programs.


Several lawmakers said their expectations were low heading into the session -- which some, including Rep. Maxine Waters of California, chose to skip.

Rep. Elijah E. Cummings of Baltimore, a new member of the House Armed Services committee and past chairman of the group, said he raised questions about the lack of properly armored Humvees for troops in Iraq as well as the administration's overall war strategy.


"I told the president that in November the people spoke loud and clear," Cummings said afterward. "I told him that I respect his position, but it seems as if he has not been truly listening to the public."

Bush replied that he cannot govern based on poll numbers and that he is making decisions in Iraq keeping in mind the effects of the Sept. 11 attacks, Cummings said.

Cummings said he tried to be emotional in conveying the concerns of military families he has met but did not think Bush was open to reconsideration on Iraq. "I wanted him to hear me, and I wanted to speak soul to soul," he said. "It was already closed down. His mind was shut tight."

A White House spokeswoman said Bush had been receptive to the concerns of Cummings and other caucus members.

"After asking members of the caucus what was on their minds, he enjoyed participating in an open give-and-take discussion about specific issues that matter the most to them," said spokeswoman Emily Lawrimore, who did not attend the meeting.

Rep. Albert R. Wynn, whose district includes Prince George's County and a portion of Montgomery County, said he asked Bush to consider more federal funding for the redevelopment of contaminated industrial sites known as brownfields.

Bush's history with the caucus is mixed. In 2003 and 2004, Democrats criticized the president for refusing to meet with caucus members, many of whom had been sharply at odds with his policies. Yesterday's was the second meeting since 2005.

"He did assure us that he would get back to us with much of what we raised with him, and we'll take him at his word on that," said Rep. Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick of Michigan, who chairs the black caucus.