With almost two dozen resumes from black Republicans in hand, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) said his party's members will focus on hiring more minorities for their staffs.
"One of our problems was, in the hiring of African Americans, we can't find good conservative African Americans to work for us," DeLay said after meeting yesterday with conservative black leaders. "But I've got 20 resumes now of young conservatives."
The closed two-hour session in the office of House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) was the second time this month Republican leaders have solicited advice from prominent black conservatives from politics, business and churches.
At the request of party leaders in the House, the black conservatives brought resumes from blacks from around the country ready to work in Republican offices in Washington.
Racially charged remarks last month by Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) highlighted the GOP's difficulties in winning over black voters. There are no black Republican lawmakers in the House or Senate.
Participants at the meeting said the party needs to recruit more blacks to serve on staffs of House and Senate Republicans, which could translate to more black candidates and voters in the future.
"They didn't have us," said conservative commentator Armstrong Williams, when asked why Republicans had not hired many blacks. "It's our responsibility to help them."
Citing a 2001 study by the Congressional Management Foundation, Ohio Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell said about 8 percent of the more than 20,000 Hill staffers are black. About 4 percent are in high-level positions and about 1 percent are Republicans, Blackwell said.
He said that of the more than 9,000 blacks holding elected positions nationwide in 2000, 50 were Republicans.
Williams, organizer of the meetings and a former aide to Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.), now retired, pledged that within two years, "you'll see hundreds of black kids from all over the country working on Capitol Hill" in Republicans' offices.
The GOP has made outreach efforts in the past, but blacks are hoping they'll be more substantive this time around.
"They understand that it's in their interest now for it not to be just talk," Blackwell said.
More than 100 jobs are slated to open up on the Republican side of the House this year.
"There's some low-hanging fruit in terms of some key appointments that could take place immediately," Blackwell said.