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Federal News Service

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Location: Washington, DC

SECTION: PRESS CONFERENCE OR SPEECH

HEADLINE: PRESS BRIEFING BY REPRESENTATIVE ELIJAH E. CUMMINGS (D-MD); SENATOR EDWARD KENNEDY (D-MA)
 
RE: AFFIRMATIVE ACTION CASE BEFORE THE SUPREME COURT
 
LOCATION: HOUSE RADIO/TV GALLERY, WASHINGTON, D.C.

BODY:
REP. CUMMINGS:
Thank you, ladies and gentlemen. I am very, very pleased to have joining us today the distinguished senator from the great state of Massachusetts who is a friend of the Congressional Black Caucus, Senator Ted Kennedy.

SEN. KENNEDY: Thank you.

I compel—commend Congressman Cummings for his compelling eloquent historical statement that reminds all Americans of where we've been, where we are today, and where we must go for the future. America will never be America until we free ourselves from all forms of discrimination. We will never fulfill the promise of the equal protection clause of the Constitution of the United States until we include all Americans.

For over the last 40 years we in the Congress have worked in a bipartisan way, Republicans and Democrats alike, in support of affirmative action programs, particularly at universities, which are really the keys to opening the door for so many of the young people of this country, and in so—and play such an important role in our society. We have worked together to make sure that we were going to have a fair process of inclusion for all Americans, for blacks and browns and women, for the disabled, for all Americans to be included in diversity. There is a compelling interest in this.

The administration has walked away from that commitment, from that promise, from that guarantee. And if we were to follow the administration's position, we'd be a lesser society, a lesser country in the future. We are strongly committed, as Congressman Cummings pointed out today, to make sure that as long as we have the opportunity to serve in the Congress of the United States, that the doors of our great universities that are the keys to equal opportunity for all of our citizens are going to be open so that young people from all backgrounds, from all neighborhoods will be able to go to the universities and be able to benefit and participate in the American society.

REP. CUMMINGS: Thank you very much.

SEN. KENNEDY: Thank you.

Q Sir, Senator Daschle today described this case as a litmus test for the administration on civil rights, that if they come out in opposition to the University of Michigan policy, they'll have no basis to—essentially no credibility on the issue of civil rights. Do you see this as actually that sort of issue?

REP. CUMMINGS: I see it as definitely a litmus test. The fact is—is that we're just coming off of the Trent Lott statement, and then to hear the president so eloquently make it clear that the statements of Mr. Lott—Senator Lott did not—were not about the ideals of America or the ideals of what we as a nation stand for. I think that we stand for a nation which is—has—provides equal opportunity to all, and one of diversity.

And so we just want the president to go back to his words with regard to what he said with regard to Senator Lott's statements and synchronize his conscience with his conduct. And that would yield him of being on the side, we think, of the University of Michigan.

SEN. KENNEDY: Let me just add to that. We not only have the recommendation of the president to the United States Senate about Judge Pickering, we have the decision now—first time in some 40 years—for the administration to fail to continue to support the kind of diversity which has opened up the doors of our universities and colleges. And in a very short time we will begin the debate on the omnibus funding bill, and it appears that they're going to shortchange the election reform, which was going to be the key to minorities to being able to participate in the election system. Those are three items which are basic and fundamental in terms of a more fair and just society. And apparently, on each and every one of these, which are very important and significant priorities, this administration will not walk the walk.

Yes?

Q Senator, at your conference or forum on Friday --

SEN. KENNEDY: Yes. Yeah.

Q—could you give us any specifics where you expect to be in the agenda that you guys—that you worked out?

SEN. KENNEDY: Well, the forum this Friday is basically a result of the leadership of the Black Caucus here, the Hispanic Caucus, the other groups here in the House and in the Senate, as well as the mayors across this country, who communicated to us that we ought to lay out at this time, starting this Congress, the agenda, the unmet agenda, the unfulfilled agenda, for many of those who have been left out and left behind, and whose skins more often than not are not white.

And Friday, we'll have that opportunity in the United States Senate—not in the chamber but off the chamber, to listen to distinguished men and women talk about a range of different kinds of issues: Talk about the issues of education; election reform; talk about issues of immigration, the hypocrisy of the administration's position with the treatment of Haitian refugees, for example; the whole range of different election reform items, wide-range of different items including the issues on diversity and affirmative action. And we will hear from those eloquent voices.

And Senator Daschle has strongly committed our caucus to listen to—carefully and to take those ideas and to shape them and to put them on the national agenda in terms of the debate in the United States Senate and to take what actions that we can with other like- minded senators to make sure that those recommendations are actually achieved. We're very grateful that Elijah Cummings, Congressman Cummings, will be in attendance as well.

REP. CUMMINGS: And we're very excited about it with regard—as far as the Congressional Black Caucus is concerned. One of the issues that Senator Kennedy has championed for many, many years is health care. And the caucus, as many of you all know, the Congressional Black Caucus has made one of its top priorities the disparity in health care and health care treatment and with regard to insurance for 40-some million Americans being uninsured, and a vast portion of those being Hispanic and African Americans. And so, we're really looking forward to it, and we think it's a great step in the right direction.

Q Congressman Cummings, despite what you've outlined about the administration's actions regarding affirmative action and in regard to Judge Pickering, et cetera, he—the administration continues to say that they want African-Americans to become part of the Republican Party. Why should African-Americans have faith in the statement -- (off mike)?

REP. CUMMINGS: I think that's a very good question, and I ask myself the question quite often. It just seems to me—as you probably know, just recently there was a meeting held with—the Republicans held a meeting trying to convince certain African-American Republicans who were insulted by the Lott statement, why—things that they might be able to do to put aside the embarrassment that they may have been feeling.

And I can tell you that I still have not come to any conclusions as to why one would be—an African American or an Hispanic today would favor the Republicans.

And I think that Senator Kennedy, in the three things that he just named, that's just a small sample of the things that certainly concern us as a caucus and certainly should concern African Americans and Latinos.

Thank you very much.

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