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Clinton and the Caucus

MEMBERS of the Congressional Black Caucus and the voting bloc whose interests they presumably serve on Capitol Hill have been disappointed with President Clinton's relative lack of success in appointing members of minorities to positions in his administration.

His hasty reversal July 1 of his nomination of highly regarded black woman lawyer Lani Guinier to head of the Justice Department's civil rights division - after being informed of some unorthodox opinions she espoused - still rankles among the Caucus membership and other blacks.

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Caucus leaders were so disturbed by the president's reversal of the Guinier appointment that they initially refused to meet with him when he sought to appease them.

Mr. Clinton later attempted to mollify upset Caucus members by promising to name more blacks and women to high-level White House posts.

Members of the group grew significantly from 26 to 40 and added a new senator, Carol Moseley-Braun (D) of Illinois, to its ranks in last November's election.

They indicated that they would give the president a chance to make good on that pledge.

Rep. Kweisi Mfume (D) of Maryland, chairman of the Caucus, said that, although he felt the Guinier situation had been badly mishandled, he was pleased that Clinton promised to be more aware of and responsive to concerns of citizens whose concerns the Black Caucus seeks to serve.

The incident demonstrated an aspect of the Caucus itself that members would like to change: Democratic Party leaders tend to take its support for granted.

But if its membership continues to grow, the Caucus may get more attention.

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One factor in its favor is that efforts to push through policies that aid black Americans give impetus to reforms sought by other minorities and by women. Another is that aggressive veteran members such as Reps. Charles Rangel (D) of New York and Ronald Dellums (D) of California are being joined by newcomers who are determined to induce reforms.

As its numbers continue to grow, the Caucus is reaching the point at which it will be able to exert more influence on the White House and congressional leaders.

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