Bush expected to address NAACP

He hasn't attended convention while in office

July 15, 2006|By KELLY BREWINGTON AND JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS | KELLY BREWINGTON AND JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS,SUN REPORTERS

NAACP leaders said yesterday that they were optimistic that President Bush would attend the organization's 97th annual convention next week in Washington. Bush has declined the civil rights group's invitation in each year of his presidency.

"I am hopeful that he has decided to attend," said Bruce S. Gordon, president and chief executive officer of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. "I cannot confirm that he will be there, but I'm optimistic."

Paul Brathwaite, the Congressional Black Caucus' communications director, who has spoken with leaders planning the meeting, said Bush is expected to speak at the conference Thursday.

The president, who is in Russia for an international summit, "wants to come back and make a splash next week at the NAACP conference," Brathwaite said.

The White House has been reluctant to accept the NAACP's invitation, given the recent efforts by some congressional Republicans to block reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act, Brathwaite said. But with the House having passed the measure this week, Bush "actually has something good to talk about" at the conference, he said.

The president "would not have been going if [the House] had not done this yesterday," Brathwaite said.

The White House would not confirm Bush's plans. The president's schedule for next Wednesday is still "to be announced," and the president has "no public events" scheduled for Thursday, said Ken Lisaius, a spokesman. The schedule could change, he said.

If Bush attends, it will reflect well on Gordon, a retired Verizon executive who took over the helm at the nation's oldest civil rights group last summer, said Ronald Walters, director of the African American Leadership Institute at the University of Maryland, College Park.

The president's attendance at the convention would also be a boon to the credibility of the civil rights organization, Walters said.

"Access to the White House has historically been a staple of currency the organization has used," he said. "For an organization not to have that relationship means it is devalued in the eyes of the nation. To restore that relationship is important."

Gordon's predecessor, Kweisi Mfume, and Julian Bond, chairman of the NAACP board, have assailed Bush as the first president since the Depression not to address the organization while in office. Bush attended the group's 2000 convention in Baltimore as a candidate for president.

At a speech during the NAACP's convention two years ago, Bond delivered a searing critique of the administration, prompting the Internal Revenue Service to investigate whether the speech was too political and violated the organization's tax-exempt status. The investigation is continuing.

Gordon took over at the NAACP with a pledge to mend the group's sour relations with Bush and has been invited to the White House for discussions with Bush.

Gordon said that if the president signs the renewal of the 1965 Voting Rights Act into law, it will be a sign of a big improvement in the relationship.

The House approved the renewal of expiring provisions of the legislation Thursday, despite an effort to thwart the bill's passage by a handful of Republicans from Georgia and Texas.

Next week, the Senate is expected to easily pass reauthorization of the provisions, which include poll watchers and federal approval of changes in voting procedures such as altering polling place locations.

kelly.brewington@baltsun.com

julie.davis@baltsun.com

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