President Barack Obama will meet with members of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus at the White House on Friday, his first sit-down with the group since taking office, White House and Congressional aides say.
The meeting comes amid some frustration by caucus members who felt that the White House neglected them in recent months. Before the lawmakers met in July with senior administration officials, the 30-member caucus had not had a formal session at the White House.
White House spokesman Shin Inouye said Obama looks forward to meeting with the caucus and “having a dialogue about the important issues facing all Americans,” including the Asian American Pacific Islander communities.
Before the meeting was scheduled, Rep. Colleen Hanabusa (D-Hawaii) said there was “a level of frustration,” among members of the caucus. And Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.) , the caucus’s chair emeritus, openly questioned whether the White House viewed the caucus as “chopped liver” in comments to reporters.
Obama tapped three Asian-American Cabinet secretaries at the start of his administration: Energy secretary Steven Chu, Veterans Affairs secretary Eric Shinseki and Commerce secretary Gary Locke, who recently left that post to become ambassador to China.
“The Asian constituency isn’t a large one, but it’s central to the Democratic Party and there’s no good reason not to touch that base,” said Cal Jillson, a professor of political science at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. “It’s going to be a very close election, and the Obama campaign can’t afford to ignore anyone.”
During the White House meeting this summer, caucus members pushed administration officials to move forward with immigration reform, a topic Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.) said will be addressed in Friday’s meeting with the president. Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are overlooked when it comes to immigration reform, congressional aides said. But members of their communities can benefit from the DREAM Act and other policies.
The lawmakers also expressed concern about long-term unemployment in their communities and health disparities including Hepatitis B facing some Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.
The group also encouraged White House aides to ask Obama to appoint more Asian American and Pacific Islanders to the federal bench. During his administration the number of federal judges who are Asian American and Pacific Islander judges has increased from 8 to 14.
Inouye said Obama is “proud of his accomplishments” that have benefited the Asian American Pacific Islander community and “looks forward to continuing to make progress.” The spokesman pointed to the White House initiative Obama reauthorized to help the federal government understand “the issues facing the community, and to connect the community with programs and help remove barriers.”