By MURPHY BROWNE (ABENA AGBETU)
The most recent fight on U.S. President Barack Obama’s hands is with the Republican-dominated House of Representatives. The Democrats control the Senate.
As a Democrat, President Obama has faced stiff resistance from the House of Representatives. Now he is fighting to ensure that the woman who he is planning to nominate for the position of Secretary of State after Hillary Clinton resigns does not suffer the same fate as other African-Americans who he appointed to positions in his Cabinet.
There was the resignation of Anthony Kapel “Van” Jones, the president’s special advisor on the environment; the resignation of Shirley Sherrod, the Georgia State Director of Rural Development for the United States Department of Agriculture and the passing of a “contempt” vote in the House against U.S. Attorney General, Eric Holder.
In his second term as President, Obama will have to deal with a divided Congress which has bedevilled his efforts to pass laws such as health care reform and tax reform. It has come to a point where the prospective nominee’s (Susan Rice for Secretary of State) qualifications are being questioned by the Republicans. As a result, the Democrats, including President Obama, are put in the position of defending her.
In March, 2009 “Van” Jones was appointed by President Obama to the newly-created position of Special Advisor for Green Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation at the White House Council on Environmental Quality. Jones worked with various agencies and departments to advance the administration’s climate and energy initiatives, with a special focus on improving vulnerable communities.
Jones is an African-American lawyer described as an environmental advocate and civil rights activist. By September 2009 he was forced to resign from the position after a concerted attack from right-wing Republican politicians and conservative Fox News commentator, Glen Beck.
In his resignation comments Jones said:
“I am resigning my post at the Council on Environmental Quality, effective today. On the eve of historic fights for health care and clean energy, opponents of reform have mounted a vicious smear campaign against me. They are using lies and distortions to distract and divide.”
Shirley Sherrod was another African-American appointed by the Obama administration who suffered from a Republican smear campaign and was forced to resign.
Sherrod was appointed Georgia State Director of Rural Development for the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) on July 25, 2009. She was targeted by a White supremacist blogger who posted edited pieces of a speech she gave at an NAACP event which made it seem as if she used her position to seek revenge on White farmers for the racism her family had suffered when she was a child.
Before viewing the entire video the NAACP and government officials publicly condemned Sherrod and demanded that she resign her position. She resigned on July 19, 2010.
However, when the entire unedited video was reviewed, the NAACP, White House officials and Tom Vilsack, the United States Secretary of Agriculture, apologized for the firing and Sherrod was offered a full-time, high-level internal advocacy position with the USDA.
She refused to accept the new position and sued the man who posted the edited version and caused the controversy which led to her being forced to resign.
The Republican House has also been hard at work trying to get rid of America’s first African-American Attorney General, Eric Himpton Holder Jr., who was appointed by President Obama in February, 2009. Holder, whose father and maternal grandparents were born in Barbados, is also the first U.S. Attorney General with Caribbean connections.
>From October 2011 to September 2012 members of the Republican-dominated House of Representatives were snapping at Holder’s heels in a concerted effort to boot him out of office. They have not been successful and he remains the 82nd U.S. Attorney General.
Now it is Susan Rice’s turn in the hot seat as the Republicans train their malevolent sights on her. The Republicans are fighting tooth and nail in an all-out effort to ensure that Susan Rice (no relation to Republican former Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice) does not become U.S. Secretary of State.
Susan Rice, if she is successful in dodging the Republican attack to become Secretary of State, will not be the first African-American or even the first female African-American in that position. Condoleezza Rice was the first female African-American Secretary of State, the second African-American in the position (after General Colin Powell) and the second woman (after Madeleine Albright).
However, Susan Rice would be the first female African-American Secretary of State with Caribbean connections. According to Susan Rice, her maternal grandparents immigrated to Portland, Maine from Jamaica in 1912. In a speech she gave at Howard University’s 145th convocation on September 28, 2012 (http://usun.state.gov/briefing/statements/198422.htm)
Rice reportedly said:
“In 1912, my mother’s parents emigrated from Jamaica to Portland, Maine. With little formal education, my grandfather took the best job he could get – as a janitor. My grandmother was a maid and a seamstress. But my grandparents managed to scrape and save to send all five of their children to college – four sons to Bowdoin and my mom, Lois, to Harvard-Radcliffe where she was student government president. Mom, in turn, devoted her distinguished career to making higher education more accessible to all.”
Rice is the current United States Ambassador to the United Nations. She served on the staff of the National Security Council and as Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs during former President Bill Clinton’s second term. Rice was confirmed as UN Ambassador in the U.S. Senate by unanimous consent on January 22, 2009 and is the first African-American woman in that position.
Now she is being pilloried by the Republicans because she spoke publicly about a protest outside the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya citing an anti-Islam video as a motivating factor in the September 11, 2012 attack on the mission. Subsequent information showed that the attack had been planned and was not related to a protest.
Three days after the attack, Senator John McCain, a Republican from Arizona who is vehemently opposed to Rice’s potential appointment, told reporters at a press conference that there had been “demonstrations” at the mission in Benghazi and extremists had “seized this opportunity to attack our consulate”. This is the same information that was available at the time and that Rice used in her address on September 16 when she said:
“Based on the best information we have to date, what our assessment is as of the present is in fact what began spontaneously in Benghazi as a reaction to what had transpired some hours earlier in Cairo where, of course, as you know, there was a violent protest outside of our embassy – sparked by this hateful video.
“But soon after that spontaneous protest began outside of our consulate in Benghazi, we believe that it looks like extremist elements, individuals, joined in that – in that effort with heavy weapons of the sort that are, unfortunately, readily now available in Libya post-revolution. And that it spun from there into something much, much more violent.”
Many people have identified racism as a factor in the Republican resistance to Rice’s appointment as Secretary of State. It will be interesting to see how far the Obama administration is willing to go to defend Rice and whether or not she will become the first female African-American Secretary of State with Caribbean connections.
General Powell was the first African-American Secretary of State with Caribbean connections (his parents were born in Jamaica).