jobsandjustice.051118

National Urban League CEO Marc Morial, a former mayor of New Orleans, speaks at a press conference Thursday (May 10, 2018) unveiling the Congressional Black Caucus’ “Jobs and Justice” agenda. CBC Chairman Cedric Richmond, D-New Orleans, is also pictured.

WASHINGTON — The stack of paper to the right of New Orleans Congressman Cedric Richmond stood about a foot tall.

The sprawling, 1,334-page "Jobs and Justice Act" that Richmond touted Thursday likely won't come anywhere close to a president's desk in the near future.

But Richmond, the chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, described the voluminous document as a comprehensive fix to much of what ails black America.

The bill would add money for schools, job training and social services, and put billions into infrastructure. It would jack up the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour, fund two years of free community college for students, boost federal scholarships for low-income students, and pump tax dollars into aging, lead-contaminated local water systems.

It would also ban racial profiling by police, eliminate the death penalty, mandate "de-escalation" training for cops, and end mandatory minimum sentences for federal drug crimes. Federal election days, meanwhile, would become federal holidays.

Richmond — flanked by other black members of Congress, Democratic House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and former New Orleans Mayor Marc Morial — acknowledged there's about zero chance the bill goes anywhere in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.

The New Orleans Democrat, though, said the Congressional Black Caucus wanted to offer a "blueprint" and "guiding light" for tackling a range of issues confronting black families in the United States — and to document what policies his coalition stands for.

"That is a very comprehensive piece of legislation," Richmond said.

Richmond said the Congressional Black Caucus began working on the sprawling bill shortly after their first meeting with President Donald Trump, a Republican whom Richmond has repeatedly criticized for racial comments and proposed cuts to social programs.

The 49-member CBC gave the president a report — titled "We Have a Lot to Lose: Solutions to Advance Black Families in the 21st Century" — a month after Trump was inaugurated. The title was intended as a retort to Trump, who during the campaign repeatedly asked black voters "What do you have to lose?" after painting a grim picture of inner-city black neighborhoods.

Richmond said the White House never responded to the report's suggestions.

"If (Trump) can't read a 130-page policy document, we decided to introduce a 1,334-page piece of legislation," Richmond said.

The lawmaker went on to charge the Trump administration of launching "numerous actions that threaten the African-American community," from rolling back police reform efforts to proposing substantial cuts to numerous social and welfare programs.

"If this nation can spend billions of dollars rebuilding the infrastructure of Bagdad and Kandahar (in Iraq and Afghanistan), we can rebuild the infrastructure of Oakland, New Orleans, Baltimore and Milwaukee," said Morial, who led New Orleans from 1994 to 2002 and now heads the National Urban League.

The National Urban League has for years published an urban "Marshall Plan" for rebuilding American cities as part of its "State of Black America" reports. The documents, named after the U.S.-led effort to rebuild Europe after World War II, have consistently called for stepped-up federal investment in cities and social programs.

Many of the Urban League's recommendations are included in the "Jobs and Justice Act," Morial said, including efforts to offer summer employment opportunities to low-income youth and improve relationships between police and black communities.

"What we’re doing is demanding the resources, the programs and the laws we need to make our communities better," Richmond said.

Pelosi, a California Democrat, joined Richmond and the CBC at the Thursday morning press conference to offer "support in every way for the proposals being made in the 'Jobs and Justice' agenda."

Pelosi called the Black Caucus "the conscience of the Congress" and said she'd work to implement the bill's policies if Democrats retake control of the House of Representatives in the upcoming midterm elections.

Richmond acknowledged that passing such a massive, broad-ranging bill would be a tough task, even if Democrats end up in control of Congress, as nearly every congressional committee would have a hand in considering it.

But Richmond said its recommendations could also be split into smaller bills and said he's looking to insert as many of its provisions into other legislation as possible.

He pointed to increased funding in recently passed budget deals for historically black universities and early childhood Head Start programs as signs of progress.

Richmond also criticized Republican leaders — especially Trump — who've touted the dropping black unemployment rate as evidence that GOP policies have made life better for black families.

Richmond called the unemployment rate a "simplistic" measure of well-being — and said policies started by former President Barack Obama, Trump's predecessor, deserved much of the credit for economic growth.

"Black unemployment was at zero when we were sharecropping. That doesn’t mean we were doing well," Richmond said. "Let’s not just use that (the unemployment rate) as the barometer."


Follow Bryn Stole on Twitter, @BrynStole.