A meeting between Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) Wednesday has helped reduce tensions but seems to have done little to reconcile different views on how to best fight poverty.
The House Budget Committee chairman was invited to attend one of the meetings after he made comments about a "tailspin of culture in our inner cities" on conservative Bill Bennett's radio show had many members of the CBC, and even the broader Democratic establishment, crying foul. Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., called the remarks, "a thinly veiled racial attack."
In a letter to Ryan after the comments, CBC chairwoman Rep. Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio, and Rep. Gwen Moore, D-Wis., called the remarks, "highly offensive," but invited Ryan to attend one of their regular meetings.
Speaking to the press after the Wednesday meeting, Fudge said there is some agreement between Ryan and the members of her caucus. "We both care about poverty," she said, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer, "but we have different approaches."
"The only point of agreement that we really had is that we both believe we have unduly isolated the poor in this country and we need to find some policies that correct that situation," Fudge said, National Journal reported.
Both parties indicated the discussion was respectful, and Ryan encouraged a broader discussion about the best ways to fight the roots of poverty.
"We need to figure out what works; we need to learn from people who are fighting poverty on the front lines. And that conversation must go both ways. Simply defending the status quo or demanding more of the same is not an answer," he said in a statement released after the meeting. He also told reporters that one of his goals is "improving the tone of the debate."
CBC members said that Ryan had called his own comments on poverty "inarticulate" but did not apologize for them. In an interview with BuzzFeed last month, Ryan said he'll need to think more carefully about how others perceive his remarks.
"We have to be cognizant of how people hear things," he said. "For instance, when I think of 'inner city,' I think of everyone. I don't just think of one race. It doesn't even occur to me that it could come across as a racial statement, but that's not the case, apparently... What I learned is that there's a whole language and history that people are very sensitive to, understandably so. We just have to better understand. You know, we'll be a little clumsy, but it's with the right intentions behind it."
The 2012 Republican vice presidential nominee has spent the past year quietly traveling around the country to meet with community groups tackling poverty at the local level. The House Budget Committee held a hearing on the matter earlier this week to discuss more effective alternatives than the federal government.
Still, many Democrats doubt his intentions because of deep cuts to social programs in the budget released earlier this year.
"I believe that he does not know or understand what it is that he is seeing [in his travels] so we asked him questions about the implications of his budget and his policy and how it impacts poverty," said Rep. Karen Bass, D-Calif., on MSNBC after the meeting. She said the meeting was too short to allow for a full back-and-forth on all the questions members had.