Politics



January 5, 2011, 11:55 am

Republican Allen West Joins Congressional Black Caucus

The all-Democrat Congressional Black Caucus welcomed its first Republican member in 14 years on Wednesday, with the swearing-in of Representative Allen B. West of Florida.

The newly elected congressman is the first Republican to join the black lawmakers’ group since Representative Gary A. Franks of Connecticut left office in 1997. The other black Republican elected to the House in November, Timothy E. Scott of South Carolina, declined to join the group.

Mr. West, a former Army lieutenant colonel who represents a swath of Florida’s southeastern coast, called the group “monolithic” shortly after his election during orientation for new members on the Hill. But on Sunday, he said he hoped to bring “intellectual debate and discourse” to the caucus.

“I think that there are different voices that are coming out of the black community,” he said in an interview on “Fox News Sunday.” “You had 42 blacks that ran on the Republican ticket this cycle. Fourteen of them made it to the general election and two of us made it to the House of Representatives. So I think that there is a new movement that needs to have a voice in the Congressional Black Caucus.”

Mr. West was not immediately available to comment after Wednesday’s caucus swearing-in ceremony.

Representative Emanuel Cleaver II, a Missouri Democrat entering his fourth term, was sworn in as the caucus chairman. In his inaugural speech, he defended the group against assertions that his caucus had become irrelevant in a so-called postracial era.

“To that spectacular assertion, I must say, ‘Get real,’ ” he said, adding that the nation was moving in that direction. “It is imperative that we obliterate the notion that we have reached race nirvana, because the failure to do so prevents us from engaging in the demanding but necessary work. Clearly, we’ve come a long way, but our work is far from over.”

Five freshman Democrats also joined the black caucus on Wednesday. The group has  43 members in the 112th Congress, all in the House.

Mr. West and Mr. Scott were virtually unknown in state and national politics two years ago but have since surged to star status in the ranks of the Tea Party. Their campaigns were marked by denouncements of nearly everything Democrats accomplished or supported over the last two years; endorsements from former Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska, arguably the queen of the Tea Party, which has clashed with prominent black groups; and little support from black voters, the core constituency of the black caucus — all contrasts that could make for a tricky relationship with black Democrats.

Mr. West, 49, represents Florida’s 22nd Congressional District, which runs from Palm Beach Gardens to Cooper City and leans slightly Democratic. After unsuccessfully challenging Representative Ron Klein in 2008, he defeated the two-term Democrat in a rematch last year.

Mr. Scott, 45, is a veteran South Carolina lawmaker and a former insurance agent. He is the first black Republican to represent the state in Congress since George Washington Murray finished his second term in 1897. Mr. Scott had previously said he would not join the black caucus because he thought race was no longer important.

Mr. Scott serves the solidly Republican First Congressional District, which stretches from Seabrook Island to the North Carolina border and includes Charleston and Myrtle Beach. He defeated Paul Thurmond, the son of the late Senator Strom Thurmond, who was known as a defender of segregation.


This post has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: January 5, 2011

An earlier version of this post stated incorrectly that South Carolina's First Congressional District includes Charlotte; that city is in North Carolina.


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