"On most issues the president was fairly noncommittal, I would say, but we had a good discussion," Lee, D-Oakland, said later Thursday.
Lee said she was one of three caucus members tasked with questioning the president about the war. She asked him to clarify whether he intends to maintain permanent military bases in Iraq, something she has introduced legislation to prevent. She said the president told her that will be left up to the Iraqi government.
"And with regards to combat troops, there was no answer as to how long this might go on," she said. "Also, I asked him about Iran and the fact that all the signs point to a march to war."
He responded to the latter question by noting that although he never takes military options off the table, "he believes that's the basis for good negotiations," Lee said; he intends to deal diplomatically with Iran's nuclear aspirations and possible provision of arms to Iraqi insurgents.
Other members urged the president to support legislation that would cut through red tape in providing aid to victims of Hurricane Katrina, Lee said. "We're still outraged at the lack of response, and the money is still not getting to the people who need it," she said.
"We also made sure he knew that some of these budget cuts are unacceptable, especially when you look at education and some of the after-school programs," she said,
Lee also asked about issues near and dear to her heart, including fighting the worldwide spread of HIV/AIDS and halting the genocide in the Darfur region of western Sudan. "It was lacking his response to Darfur troubled me," she said, although she acknowledged the president might not have wanted to talk about what his special envoy may be doing behind the scenes.
The Congressional Black Caucus, now led by Rep. Carolyn Kilpatrick, D-Mich., last met with President Bush in January 2005. Lee said President Bush at least seemed to appreciate the fact that the caucus now includes several committee chairmen boosted into power by the new Democratic majority: "He recognized the new dynamics in the House of Representatives and acknowledged that."
Contact Josh Richman at firstname.lastname@example.org or (510) 208-6428. Read the Political Blotter at InsideBayArea.com.