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Updated Mar 7, 2024, 9:09am EST
politicsNorth America

What Black Democrats want to hear at the State of the Union

Reuters/Kevin Lamarque
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The News

Black members of Congress are hoping that Joe Biden will use his State of the Union Speech to speak directly to the concerns of African Americans who are feeling lukewarm about this reelection bid.

There’s not necessarily a secret formula that will win those voters over, some members say, but he at least needs to explain in clear terms what he’s accomplished for them.

“I just want him to reaffirm a lot of what he has done already and how it impacts Black communities,” Rep. Yvette Clarke, D-N.Y. told Semafor. “So many of our constituents, mine in particular, are actually benefiting from the work that we have done already. And I think it’s important for him to give a vision of how he can build on those accomplishments.”

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Other lawmakers offered more specific suggestions. Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., the top Democrat on the House Financial Services Committee, told Semafor she personally requested the president “say something about housing” — specifically affordability, homelessness, discrimination, and rental assistance programs for low-income residents.

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas said Biden needed to “focus on justice issues,” and promise to protect Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion policies that have historically benefitted black Americans from Republican efforts to roll them back.

“I think the African American community wants to know that there’s equity, that if people are eliminating DEI, that the federal government will have their back,” she said.

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Black voters will also be listening carefully to Biden’s message on Gaza, argued Rep. Jamaal Bowman, D-N.Y.. He told Semafor he hears resentment from his constituents over the conflict both because of the humanitarian toll it has taken among the Palestinians and what Black voters see as misplaced priorities.

Many wonder “why taxpayer money is going there for that but not coming to our communities to help build out infrastructure,” he said. “We got money for wars but can’t feed the poor,” Bowman then added, quoting a 1993 Tupac Shakur song “Keep Ya Head Up.”

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Know More

Black voters have become an unexpected source of concern for the White House’s reelection hopes this year. While Biden still commands support from a solid majority of African Americans, some polls have shown his numbers trailing well below the 92% he won in 2020. For months, Black leaders have said the White House’s inability to highlight Biden’s wins for their communities has contributed to the slippage. Some members of Congress think the administration needs to do a better job targeting its messaging.

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“We need to make sure we’re meeting voters where they are and not just talking about it here or on TV, but we’re reaching them on every medium possible,” Rep. Jennifer McClellan, D-Va. told Semafor.

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