By Krissah Thompson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 10, 2009 10:28 AM
The Rev. Jesse Jackson has joined black lawmakers in their push to get the White House to do more to directly help African American communities disproportionately hurt by the nation's severe economic recession.
Jackson, who noted that he was not invited to President Obama's recent jobs summit, said he has requested a meeting with Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner to talk about economic aid for depressed minority communities. No meeting has been set.
In recent days, Obama has pushed back at the idea that his administration should focus economic revitalization policies on specific ethnic and racial groups. In an interview with USA Today and the Detroit Free Press last week, the president said, "The most important thing I can do for the African American community is the same thing I can do for the American community, period, and that is get the economy going again and get people hiring again."
Press secretary Robert Gibbs also told reporters that the purpose of the jobs summit was to get "ideas from a whole host of people in the private sector -- people that run fairly large companies, like FedEx, Google; small business owners that -- the engine of our economy -- that do most of our hiring; financial experts; others that have ideas."
Still, Jackson said he was concerned that civil rights leaders were not in the mix. He and some black lawmakers have begun to show impatience with the nation's first African American president, citing unemployment rates that have reached 20 percent for blacks in cities such as Detroit and Milwaukee.
Jackson's relationship with Obama remains tenuous. The civil rights leader refers to himself as a supporter of the president but was publicly critical of Obama several times last year. He and some other members of the old guard of civil rights leaders were not early backers of Obama's campaign and at times questioned whether Obama was ready to be elected or sufficiently concerned about issues facing the black community.
Obama, in turn, has tended to keep Jackson at arm's length and has not met with him since becoming president.
But since Obama took office, Jackson's criticism has largely been muted. The deep recession affecting some minority communities might be opening fissures, and Jackson's comments follow tough words from leaders of the Congressional Black Caucus, who have said in recent days that the White House needs to be pressured to do more for their constituents.
Jackson said he wants to discuss with administration officials both the bailout of the nation's banks and the economic stimulus. He criticized both as "watering the leaves but leaving the roots essentially dry."
"The banks were given a stimulus so much that they gave it back to the government," Jackson said. He also accused some banks of circumventing fair lending laws and the Community Reinvestment Act. Leaders at the Justice Department have said that enforcing civil rights and fair lending laws is a priority of the administration.
Jackson, who recently celebrated the 25th anniversary of his first run for the White House, said it is the right time for civil rights leaders to begin pushing Obama. "Our voices will create the sensitivity. That's the civil rights movement's role."