At the annual awards dinner of the Congressional Black Caucus on Saturday, President Barack Obama told black leaders that have criticized him for not doing enough to address black unemployment to quit complaining and focus on supporting him.
Black unemployment is nearly double the national average at 16.7 percent, The Associated Press reports. Black leaders have questioned why lowering it is not more of a priority for Obama, and they have also taken the president to task for giving in to Republican demands.
During the summer, CBC chairman Rep. Emanuel Cleaver of Missouri called the compromise deal on raising the federal debt ceiling that Obama reached with GOP leaders a "sugar-coated Satan sandwich," the AP reports. And last month, Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., complained that Obama's Midwest bus tour had bypassed black districts. She said the CBC is "supportive of the president, but we're getting tired."
The AP reports that, at the CBC dinner, Obama said, "It gets folks discouraged. I know. I listen to some of y'all…. So many people are barely hanging on. And so many people in this city are fighting us every step of the way."
But, he added, the way forward is to support him. "Take off your bedroom slippers. Put on your marching shoes," he said. "Shake it off. Stop complainin'. Stop grumblin'. Stop cryin'. We are going to press on. We have work to do."
Obama also used his speech to highlight how his jobs bill would help struggling African American communities, CNN reports. He said 100,000 black-owned businesses would get a tax cut for hiring a new worker or giving workers a raise, and noted that the bill includes programs to help low-income youth get summer jobs.
Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, told CNN she thought the president struck the right tone with his speech.
"This is the first day of the beginning of a season of pressure" on Republicans in Congress, Jackson Lee said. "I think that this is now, for his own sake, a sense of reckoning that although his temperament as president of the United States for everybody – is to include everyone – there's a time now that the marching has to begin, because he's got to save this country and we're willing to save it with him."
The president will also need African American voters to vote at similar levels to the historic 2008 election if he's to win a second term, the AP notes.