The Ticket

Congressional Black Caucus bids farewell to Allen West, its last remaining GOP member

Chris Moody
The Ticket

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Florida Republican Rep. Allen West (Larry Marano/Getty Images)

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla.—The Congressional Black Caucus will revert to a Democrats-only club when the 113th Congress convenes in January.

The group's sole Republican, Florida Rep. Allen West, conceded a contentious House race on Tuesday. West was the third Republican to join the caucus since its formation in 1971; the caucus' last Republican member was Connecticut Rep. Gary Frank who was unseated 16 years ago. Republican Mia Love, who said she planned to join the CBC if elected, lost her Utah House race. The only other black House Republican, Rep. Tim Scott of South Carolina, declined to become a member in 2010 and has not indicated that he will do so in the coming session.

West, an outspoken Army veteran and conservative whose rise to power was boosted by a groundswell of tea party support, was known as a rabble-rouser within the caucus.

As the lone Republican, he did little to shape the group's liberal policy stances. Outgoing CBC Chairman Emanuel Cleaver of Missouri added a disclaimer to official CBC statements stating they may not represent the views of all members. "I did that as chair, trying to be responsive to things he might be concerned about," Cleaver, a Democrat, told Yahoo News. When the CBC unveiled its budget blueprint in 2011, West was not present at the press conference to discuss it.

Democratic members of the CBC said that while West attended meetings, they didn't pay much attention to him.

"I don't have a real recollection of him at meetings," Texas Democratic Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee told Yahoo News. "We decided not to be distracted by name-calling."

But West couldn't always be ignored. During his two-year stint in Congress, he made a name for himself battling with Democrats, including fellow caucus members. For example, CBC members take turns providing lunch for their weekly meetings. When it was West's turn, he brought fast food, a move that irked his colleagues.

"That was an 'in your face,'" Florida Democratic Rep. Alcee Hastings told the Huffington Post. "Every member of the Congressional Black Caucus that was there was offended."

Democrats outside the CBC have struggled to conceal their glee over West's departure. When House Leader Nancy Pelosi introduced the incoming class of House Democrats in Washington, D.C., earlier this month—which she boasted would usher in the most diverse caucus "in the history of civilized government"—she chose Patrick Murphy, the white man who defeated West, to speak for the group.

"His election is a cause for celebration," Pelosi exclaimed to applause.

CBC members said West's rhetoric—in statements on the House floor and to the media—furthered his outlier status.

"He called me a communist," Minnesota Democratic Rep. Keith Ellison, a CBC member and chairman of the House Progressive Caucus, told Yahoo News. "He said a person of the Islamic faith wasn't supposed to be in Congress at all. So look, I bear nobody any ill will, I wish him all the best, I wish his family the best, but you asked me a direct question and I gave you a direct answer."

Fellow CBC members' inflammatory comments about the tea party nearly drove West to leave the caucus in 2011, he said at the time. Indiana Democratic Rep. Andre Carson told CBC members in Miami that tea party-backed members of Congress wanted to see black politicians "hanging on a tree." Maxine Waters, a Democrat from California, said just a week before that "the tea party can go straight to hell."

"One of the things I'm starting to think about is reconsidering my membership in the Congressional Black Caucus, because I don't think that they're moving toward the right manner in which we're going to solve the problems not just in the black community but all across the United States of America," West said during an interview on Fox News' "Fox and Friends" morning program.

Ultimately, he decided to stay. But the troubled relationship between West and the caucus remained.

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