Skip to main content

Top black lawmaker urges Obama to focus on African-American jobs

By the CNN Wire Staff
Click to play
Rep. Waters criticizes Obama on jobs
  • Rep. Maxine Waters urges Obama to fight harder against tea party
  • Waters says black lawmakers don't criticize Obama for fear of losing voter support
  • "If we go after the president too hard, you are going after us," Waters says

(CNN) -- A top African-American lawmaker urged President Barack Obama on Thursday to focus more attention on the plight of unemployed black Americans, warning that there is growing frustration with the administration among some of its staunchest backers.

"We love the president," Rep. Maxine Waters, D-California, told CNN. "We're working with him but are sounding the alarm."

The national unemployment rate was 9.1% in July, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. But it was nearly 16% for African-Americans, a figure Waters said was the highest in the nation of any key demographic and the worst since the Great Depression.

"We are unique in terms of the pain that we are feeling in our community," said Waters, a key member of the Congressional Black Caucus.

Rep. Waters wants to 'unleash' on Obama
Final day of Obama's bus tour
Obama's plan to create jobs
Bartlett: 'Fed needs to be aggressive'

Earlier this week, Waters questioned Obama's failure to visit any predominantly African-American communities during his Midwest bus tour. The president visited Minnesota, Iowa and his home state of Illinois from Monday to Wednesday.

Waters, a veteran legislator, told a Detroit crowd that some black lawmakers have been reluctant to criticize the nation's first African-American president.

"You are very proud to have a black man as president," Waters said in remarks captured on the Grio website, an African-American news site. There is concern, she said, that "if we go after the president too hard, you are going after us."

Voices in the crowd could be heard imploring Waters to press Obama on issues like unemployment.

"When you unleash us ... and tell us it is all right to have this conversation, we are ready to have this conversation," Waters said. "We're supportive of the president, but we're getting tired. ... The unemployment is unconscionable (and) we don't know what the strategy is."

During her interview with CNN on Thursday, Waters pushed the president to take what she characterized as a tougher stance against conservative tea party activists. An increasing number of progressives have complained that Obama was too willing to compromise with conservatives in recent debt ceiling and related budget negotiations.

"We have to let the president know we're behind him," Waters said. "Don't back up from the tea party. Stand up and fight them. Don't give in to them. Don't make deals with them because you are trying to get along."

"We want the president to know that he's got a lot of people behind him," Waters added. "We're hurting, and we're getting angry. ... Let the president know that we want him to be tough."

CNN's Alan Silverleib contributed to this report.