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Obama to meet at the White House with black church leaders
Tuesday's meeting is the second at the White House this year to discuss issues primarily affecting blacks. Two months ago, Obama sat down with NAACP President Benjamin Jealous, National Urban League President Marc Morial and the Rev. Al Sharpton, who had requested the visit.
Afterward, the civil rights leaders said Obama had been willing to hear their ideas, and they restated their support for the administration. But in the days after, Smiley criticized the men for not putting more pressure on Obama to carve out a specific black agenda.
Smiley then held a forum in Chicago -- attended by the Rev. Jesse Jackson and academics Cornel West and Michael Eric Dyson, among others -- where a number of African American speakers said that Obama needs to do more for blacks.
"The bottom line is the president needs to take the issues of black America more seriously because black folks are catching hell, number one," Smiley said after the forum. "Number two: This theory that a rising tide lifting all boats -- that theory was soundly dismissed. Thirdly, because black people are suffering disproportionately, it requires a disproportionate response."
Smiley's forum drew criticism from Sharpton, who accused Smiley of being a "critic of the president" and creating unnecessary division.
A similar tug of war has occurred between the president and some members of the Congressional Black Caucus, who have said that Obama should do more to target aid and jobs for poor blacks. Caucus members have said that key people in the Obama administration have taken them for granted.
Despite such fissures with black political leaders, the president's popularity among black voters remains sky-high, said David Bositis, a pollster with the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, a think tank focused on black issues.
"Obama couldn't be doing better among African Americans," Bositis said. "There's absolutely nothing there in terms of a problem in terms of African Americans. The opposition from Southern white conservatives . . . just makes African Americans more strongly bonded to Obama."
Staff writer Michael D. Shear contributed to this report.