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    Bush tells CBC he's 'unfamiliar' with Voting Rights Act
    by Roland S. Martin, Chicago Defender
    January 27, 2005

    President George W. Bush met with the Congressional Black Caucus Wednesday for
    the first time as a group in nearly four years, but what CBC members said stood
    out the most was the president's declaration that he was "unfamiliar" with the
    Voting Rights Act of 1965, one of the most significant pieces of legislation
    passed in the history of the United States.

    At the conclusion of yesterday's 40-minute meeting, Bush - who attended along
    with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice - was asked by Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr.
    (D-2nd) whether he would support the re-authorization of a portion of the
    Voting Rights Act that must be approved every 25 years (It will come up for
    consideration next year).

    From left to right, Rep. Carolyn C. Kilpatrick, D-Mich., Rep. Jesse Jackson
    Jr., D-Ill., Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill., Rep. Charles B. Rangle, D-NY., and
    Chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, Rep. Mel Watt, D-N.C., speak to the
    media outside the West Wing of the White House following their meeting with
    President Bush, Wednesday in Washington. AP/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

    "I don't know anything about the 1965 Voting Rights Act," Jackson recalled the
    president saying in an interview with the Chicago Defender.

    He said that a hurried Bush went on to say that "when the legislation comes
    before me, I'll take a look at it, but I don't know about it to comment any
    more than that, but we will look at it when it comes to us."

    "It was so unbelievable to me that as soon as I walked out, I got Frank
    (Watkins, Jackson's top legislative aide) on the telephone, put (Congresswomen)
    Maxine (Waters, D-Calif.) and Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas), so that I could
    confirm what he just said is what I heard," Jackson said.

    Rep. Bobby Rush (D-1st) said he recalled the president saying he was
    "unfamiliar" with the Voting Rights Act.

    "I was surprised and astounded," Rush told the Defender.

    Rep. Danny Davis (D-7th) and Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) could not be reached
    for comment.

    Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill, gestures as he answers a question from April Ryan,
    White House correspondent for American Urban Radio Networks, as he walks out of
    the West Wing of the White House following the Congressional Black Caucus
    meeting with President Bush Wednesday. AP/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

    White House spokesman Allen Abney did not specifically address Bush's statement
    of being unfamiliar with the Voting Rights Act, but said that "there is a
    section of the Act that is up for re-authorization in 2006, and the president
    is firmly committed to protecting voting rights. He indicated today that he
    would be looking closely at the Act as it comes up for re-authorization and
    certainly take their concerns into consideration."

    According to the description on the Department of Justice's website, the Voting
    Rights Act is "generally considered the most successful piece of civil rights
    legislation ever adopted by the United States Congress."

    The bill guaranteed that African Americans and any other group would not be
    denied the right to vote, and put in place provisions to ensure that voting
    rights would not be trampled on by local and state officials.

    Bush's meeting with the CBC was the second of two days of meetings with Black
    leaders. On Tuesday, he met with more than two dozen pastoral and business
    leaders, all supporters of the president's policies. A couple of weeks ago Bush
    sat down with Kweisi Mfume, who had recently announced his resignation as
    president and CEO of the NAACP.

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    Rush said Wednesday's meeting was different from the others because he has had
    a fractious relationship with the CBC, and was dealing with "more knowledgeable
    people around the different issues that affect the African American community."

    "In that room you had 43 individuals whose whole life of activity and endeavor
    have been around trying to upgrade and uplift the life of Black America," Rush
    said. "We are elected into the Congress and we know the ins and outs of it and
    we know the machinations that the administration and the Republicans engage in
    and so, yea, we weren't wild-eyed and in a state of ecstasy just to meet the
    president. We came to be about business."

    As for Bush's mood, Rush said the president was "cordial" but also "as
    non-responsive today as he was four years ago to the overall agenda."

    "He did become animated around the issue of Darfur (Sudan),"Rush said.

    As for Rice, Rush said the new secretary of state said "absolutely nothing. She
    was just there. For what reason, I'm not sure."

    Jackson praised CBC Chairman Mel Watt, D-N.C., for focusing on the disparities
    facing African Americans in six categories, such as economics, social justice
    and international issues.

    He said Bush mostly nodded his head and took notes, but he was adamant about
    his opposition to statehood for the District of Columbia, a point raised by
    Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, who represents the Washington, D.C. area in

    Jackson said Bush thought he was going to bring up the issue again and cut him
    off, saying, "I'm against statehood. I'm consistent on that and have been
    consistent on that since I was governor

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