African-American Democrats in the House upped their pressure on President Obama on Wednesday, boycotting a final committee vote on a financial regulatory reform bill that is a key priority of the administration.
Without the Congressional Black Caucus members present, the bill -- which would add new consumer protection requirements to the financial industry, create a regime to unwind failing institutions, and regulate derivatives -- still managed to squeak through, 31-27.
Ten CBC members who sit on the Financial Services Committee were protesting a lack of attention paid to the ongoing jobless situation in their districts. The original markup of the bill had been scheduled for the Thursday before the Thanksgiving recess, but CBC members, led by Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), who chairs a financial services subcommittee, told Chairman Barney Frank (D-Mass.) that they would not vote for the measure in order to protest the failure to stem joblessness in their districts.
Frank told reporters after the hearing that he sympathized with the CBC's goal. "They face the prospect, and I'm very sympathetic, that the damage that's being done to much of the country will be cyclical and people will recover, but permanent damage could be done to some of the important economic institutions in their community and I think that's a very legitimate issue," Frank said.
The CBC's concerns have, apparently, not been addressed. The ten CBC members met with each other during the committee vote and have yet to release a statement; a CBC spokesman referred questions to Waters, and a Waters aide said a press conference would be held later Wednesday. White House and Treasury spokespersons didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.
After the markup, HuffPost asked Frank when he became aware they had they had firmly decided to boycott the 10:00 a.m. markup. "I got some indication last night that [their presence] was uncertain, but I didn't get a definite answer. I didn't get a definite answer until, frankly, I asked at about 10:20," he said.
Asked by another reporter if their absence could cause a problem on the floor, Frank said, "It depends on what they decide." There are 41 CBC members in the House, enough to prevent the bill from passing if they stick together.
Frank said the bill will go to the House Rules Committee on Tuesday and be voted on Thursday and Friday of next week.
The boycott will not harm his ability to work with the CBC in the future, Frank said.
"If my relations with people were easily damaged we wouldn't be having this conversation," he told a group of reporters. "Beyond that, when you're in a legislative body you understand that you have an ongoing set of relationships and people can be your best friend one minute and opposed another."
In this case, he said that the CBC was pursuing what was in its best interests. "Their saying is, 'No permanent friends. No permanent enemies. Just permanent interests.' Meaning, they can't afford the luxury of personal feelings given the importance of their goal. And I think that's right. So no, there will be no interference in our ability to continue working together, because we are in agreement on a very wide range of issues," he said.
Democrats have a 13-seat cushion on the committee. Rep. Michael Capuano or Massachusetts was the lone non-CBC no-show. Two Republicans, Rep. Gresham Barrett (S.C.) and Patrick McHenry (N.C.), also failed to appear.
Frank said that he sympathized with their political objective, but was kinder to the administration. "I think there's been too little done by the federal government in general to alleviate social inequity and poverty. African Americans have been hardest hit," he said. "The Obama administration has been better than [the administration] before."
UPDATE: The White House responds to the CBC move: "We share the concerns raised by CBC Members about struggling minority communities and that's why we've engaged in a positive way to make progress on these issues. We have not been informed of the reasoning behind their decision not to vote on the bill, but we continue to think it is important to move financial reform forward to prevent future crises from damaging our economy and disrupting the lives of millions of Americans, including African Americans."