LOS ANGELES — Voter suppression, criminal justice reform, job creation and housing costs are among the key areas the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) will tackle in the coming months, the agency’s new chair, U.S. Rep. Karen Bass (D-Los Angeles) said in a recent phone interview.
Earlier this month, Bass met with former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams to investigate voting irregularities in the deciding hours of the election — irregularities that many observers believe cost Abrams a victory over current Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp.
“We’re currently documenting all of the examples of voter suppression that took place in the 2018 election and then we will pass legislation to address it,” Bass said.
In April, Bass will return to her home state to address another issue she said is vital to the CBC: reform in the criminal justice system.
“We’re going to be looking at the reforms that have taken place in California and see how they have helped our community and what more needs to be done,” Bass said, referring to bail money reforms and a decision by Los Angeles County supervisors to replace Men’s Central Jail with a mental health hospital.
Bass said she plans to speak with people affected most by the criminal justice system — ex-offenders and their families.
“We’re also going to meet with people who were formerly incarcerated to talk about things that they need to integrate better into the community,” she said. No dates or details have yet been determined.
Since being named to the CBC post in November, Bass has been traveling coast-to-coast, identifying solutions to problems facing black Americans and speaking out against injustices.
Since November, she has admonished President Donald Trump and his administration over the recent government shutdown, sparred with acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker and raised the issue of helping refugees, migrants and asylum seekers from countries Trump called “s—hole countries” last year.
“Yes, that’s what happens when Trump doesn’t allow you to rest for one minute,” Bass said of her full agenda and busy travel schedule.
Another of Bass’ key goals as CBC chair is to increase the visibility of the caucus and better explain to the public what the caucus does and why it exists.
“We’re going to go into the communities and make sure they know what we’re doing,” Bass said. “They should know there are 55 members of the CBC that represent districts across the United States. There is no area of public policy that the CBC has not positively impacted.”
The caucus, often called the “conscious of the Congress,” traditionally uses its constitutional power and political resources to root out injustice and improve the lives of black and disenfranchised Americans. Five of its members chair full committees, Bass said, “and within those committees we will be able to increase resources and change policies in positive ways.”
Bass, a fifth-term congresswoman representing the 37th Congressional District, is the eighth woman to chair the caucus in its 47-year history.
Since being elected to lead the CBC, Bass has demanded the Trump administration accept Democratic proposals to re-open the government, supported a petition to combat human trafficking, and spoken out on national issues like the confirmation of William Barr to Attorney General and family separation at the U.S.-Mexico border.
“In our domestic child welfare system, the best interests of a child are determined by a social worker and a judge. Border Patrol officers are not trained to do this. They are not social workers,” Bass said. “The family separation policy at our border is a stain on this country’s history.”
Bass said her role as CBC chair won’t affect the work she’s already done in Congress. In addition to her new role, she also is a member of the House Judiciary Committee and chair of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights and International Organizations.
“I have worked hard all my life and I am so honored and excited for this role,” she said. “I will not have a problem meeting my responsibilities [in the 37th District] as well.”
By Michael Livingston