Representative Mel Watt of North Carolina is stepping down after 2 years as chair of the Congressional Black Caucus. CBC Watch correspondent Leutisha Stills evaluates his tenure, and pronounces Watt dead on arrival.
In looking back at how the Congressional Black Caucus has operated in the last two years, we at CBC Monitor, have not come to praise Congressman Mel Watt's (D-NC), leadership, but to bury him in his performance as Chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus for the past two years.
You can't really praise an individual's leadership when they consistently subverted it to do the will of House Minority Leader, Representative Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), in the hopes of receiving favorable treatment from her. Watt's obsequious relationship with Pelosi negatively impacted everything the CBC attempted to do as a Caucus, and rendered them virtually ineffective.
The fact that the CBC is as ineffective as Mel Gibson's apology for his anti-Semitic remarks, was not lost on individuals attending this year's CBC Legislative Weekend. It was reported to CBC Monitor by reliable sources on Capitol Hill that attendance at this year's conference was down by an estimated 15,000 people. Well, people get tired of attending events, using their own money, vacation time and travel, to listen to elected officials talk loud and say nothing, as well as do talk loud and do nothing.
"Watt's obsequious relationship with Pelosi negatively impacted everything the CBC attempted to do as a Caucus."
Mel Watt deserves all the ridicule, scorn and derision we can hurl upon him, for his decided lack of leadership and a woeful unwillingness to call out any renegade CBC member for voting the corporate interests that serve to decimate the majority Black districts they represent, in the name of maintaining unanimity. Even when his own colleagues made the customary laudable speeches, praising his leadership, one got the sense that they really didn't mean what they said.
His repeated capitulation to House Minority Leader Pelosi, one assumes, is in the hope that he positions himself well for a plum committee assignment, should the Democrats take back Congress in November, by holding himself out to Pelosi as being a "good, non-threatening Negro," while selling out his own Caucus, even though he always voted in such a way that earned him a position on the Honor Roll since we began publishing the Report Card.
Well, for his trouble to attempt to maintain unanimity, as well as subverting the CBC's own political agenda (if they ever had one) to stay in Pelosi's good graces, those who relied on the CBC being the "Conscience of the Congress" got the following results of Black Leadership for their reliance:
- 20 CBC members were scrubbed off the list of lawmakers who sponsored legislation to renew provisions of the Voting Rights Act, because Pelosi, in code words, deemed the bill "too Black," and was afraid she wouldn't be able to get the reich-wing bigots in the GOP to sign off on it.
- The isolation of, and slinging under the bus of one of their own members (Rep. Cynthia McKinney, D-GA), for crying out about corruption in the Bush Administration, as well as being subjecting to racial profiling by the Capitol Hill Police, while circling the wagons to protect a member of the CBC who was so corrupt in the selling of his office that he has the moniker of "Dollar Bill," and is currently under a Federal indictment for bribery (Rep. William Jefferson, D-LA).
- We believe the CBC's willingness to follow Pelosi's orders and isolate McKinney may have played a direct role in her primary loss this past August. We know that their circling the wagons around Jefferson has cost the Caucus in terms of credibility among many progressive organizations, especially when, instead of taking action to handle the Jefferson matter themselves, they waited until Pelosi took the action of removing Jefferson from his committee assignments and then they cried "Foul" and implied that Pelosi's actions were racially motivated.
They probably were, but the CBC leadership did not have to abdicate personal responsibility in calling out one of their own for ethics violations and corruption of their office. We would expect the CBC to be as vigilant about their own members as they are about the system of Checks and Balances in the Federal Government.
"Watt provided derelict Black members cover in their duty as lawmakers."
- The failure to publicly censure CBC members who voted for anti-people legislation (such as the Bankruptcy bill; Net Neutrality, Estate Tax Repeal, Border Protection Act, Authorization of Iraq War, etc), when the sense of the majority of the Caucus (better than 60%) was against such legislation and voted accordingly. In excusing the votes of the renegade members, Watt provided them cover to be derelict in their duty as lawmakers, while publicly chastising organizations such as CBC Monitor, for daring to publish Report Cards highlighting such dereliction.
There are many examples of Mel Watt's dereliction as a leader of the CBC, which we have expanded on in several issues of the Black Commentator, so there is no need to do anymore than write Mr. Watt's obituary on his tenure as CBC Chairman. His obituary, from our standpoint, is brief:
He often voted correctly,
But when it came to matters of importance, and holding the Caucus together as a Caucus, in leadership,
He was Missing In Action.
Rather than advance the Agenda of the Caucus he often sought to subvert it, at the directive of the House Minority Leader.
In so doing, and refusing to have the Caucus take positions on things that mattered, the Caucus was absent from any political position of importance.
Mel Watt threw away any bargaining chips the Caucus would have had, and rendered 41 House Members and 1 Senator as no more than bumbling fools on Capitol Hill.
In evaluating the leadership of Congressman Mel Watt as CBC Chair, we cannot praise him, we can only bury him.
Leutisha Stills, a member of the CBC Monitor, is on the Faculty Administration of George Mason University, in Fairfax, Virginia. She can be reached at [email protected]