Shut out and fed up, GOP congressman will stay in black caucus anyway

June 15, 1993|By John B. O'Donnell | John B. O'Donnell,Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- On Friday, the only Republican member of the Congressional Black Caucus had had enough.

But by yesterday, apparently, he hadn't had enough. And so, Rep. Gary Franks of Connecticut announced that he had changed his mind about resigning from the caucus, saying he had been "inundated with phone calls" over the weekend after disclosing his resignation plans.

The straw that broke the camel's back -- at least temporarily -- apparently came last Wednesday. Mr. Franks was tossed out of the meeting at which the black caucus decided not to go to the White House the following day for a session with President Clinton.

Rep. Kweisi Mfume, chairman of the caucus, put it more delicately Wednesday in describing the "unanimous" vote to stiff the president. "Our Republican member was not at this particular part of the meeting because the caucus had resolved itself pretty much into a Democratic caucus of the caucus."

The president had sought the meeting after Mr. Mfume, a Baltimore Democrat, had criticized him sharply for dropping the nomination of Lani Guinier to be assistant attorney general for civil rights.

It is not unusual for Democrats in Congress to exclude Republicans from meetings. For example, the Democratic members of the House Ways and Means Committee excluded Republicans during the writing of the tax and budget bill that passed the House last month. The rationale, one Democrat said, was that the GOP members would vote against the bill no matter what it included, so why include them in the crafting of the measure.

Mr. Franks told a news conference yesterday that he had "routinely" been asked to leave black caucus meetings over the past 2 1/2 months.

"Many times I would make a statement that would be contrary to their opinion, and then a motion would be made and a quick vote could be taken to resolve the Congressional Black Caucus into the Democratic Black Caucus," he said.

Mr. Mfume's spokesman said the congressman had no comment on the statement by Mr. Franks, a second-termer who represents a largely white district in the Waterbury-Danbury area.

Mr. Franks cast his fleeting resignation decision in economic terms, saying his exclusion from meetings "meant that taxpayers' dollars from my office were being wasted." He was referring to the $10,000 his office contributes to the black caucus each congressional term.

Mr. Franks would not describe his differences with the 39 Democratic members of the caucus. Nor would he disclose what he had said that prompted his ouster from Wednesday's session. Nor would he say exactly who had called him over the weekend, other than to describe the callers as constituents who felt he could be more effective by maintaining his membership.

Asked if anyone in the Republican leadership had called, Mr. Franks responded, "I'd rather not say who called."

But he said he intended to remain in the caucus "as long as I am a member of Congress and black."

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