By Sophie Quinton
President Obama just got a little carried away. At least, that’s how members of the Congressional Black Caucus are explaining Obama’s remarks at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s Annual Dinner last Saturday night.
Obama ended his rousing speech by calling on his audience to “take off your bedroom slippers, put on your marching shoes” and press on for change and equality. “Stop complaining, stop grumbling, stop crying. We are going to press on. We’ve got work to do, CBC,” the president exhorted.
His speech met with a standing ovation. But in television appearances Monday, Black Caucus members and African-American leaders questioned the president’s choice of words.
Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., called the president’s remarks “a bit curious” in a CBS appearance. She said she didn’t think the president would have made such comments to a meeting of Hispanic, Jewish, or LGBT voters.
“I don’t know who the president was talking to,” Waters said on MSNBC later Monday. “I think he got carried away. Got off script and got a little bit beside himself. I certainly don’t believe he thinks that the Congressional Black Caucus is sitting around in house slippers and bed slippers.”
CBC Chairman Emanuel Cleaver, D-Mo., echoed Waters’ remarks in a separate MSNBC appearance, but made his support for the president clear.
“I think the president stepped away from his prepared text as many of us do who speak a lot. And in the passion of the moment, he talked about the complaining that he’s hearing around the country inside the party,” Cleaver said. “And he’s saying that that’s not helpful, join in, we need all of the members of this coalition working together so that we can successfully deal with reelection.”
“The Congressional Black Caucus supports the president,” Cleaver added.
Obama’s approval ratings among African-Americans have been dropping, but his 82 percent approval rating among blacks is still the highest of any demographic. The black unemployment rate is 16.7 percent.
Both Rep. Donna Edwards, D-Md., who spoke to MSNBC Monday, and civil rights leader the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who spoke to CNN, didn’t criticize the president’s concluding remarks: instead, they praised the passion he displayed in his speech. “I think he was on fire, and that fire must continue,” Jackson said.
Obama’s call on the CBC to “press on” ended a passionate speech full of references to the civil-rights struggle that the president delivered with sermon-style cadences.
The president’s call to his audience to “stop grumbling” repeated more general sentiments he had expressed earlier in the speech—and that he had also applied to his own leadership.
“I am going to press on for jobs. I’m going to press on for equality. I’m going to press on for the sake of our children,” Obama said as he began to wrap up his remarks. Applause greeted every sentence.
“I don’t have time to feel sorry for myself. I don’t have time to complain. I am going to press on,” Obama said. “I expect all of you to march with me and press on.”