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Posted at 11:47 AM ET, 01/ 5/2011

Allen West becomes first Republican since 1990s to join Congressional Black Caucus

By Felicia Sonmez

The new congress convenes for the first time Wednesday with a full schedule of events. We have full coverage the first day of the new Congress, complete with live video of the swearing in ceremony and what you're saying on Twitter.

Florida Republican Rep. Allen West Wednesday officially joined the Congressional Black Caucus, becoming the first Republican to join the group since Rep. Gary Franks (R-Conn.) was defeated in 1996.

West was inducted along with the caucus' other 42 members at a ceremonial swearing-in ceremony at the Capitol Visitors Center Wednesday morning, hours before the 112th Congress convenes for the first time. Members of the CBC were seated onstage in the Capitol Auditorium for the ceremony; West sat in the back row with the CBC's five other freshmen, sandwiched between Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-La.) and Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-Fla.), who was wearing a bright red sequined hat.

West, along with Rep. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), is one of two incoming black Republicans in the new Congress. But the two have split over whether to join the CBC; Scott declined the caucus' invitation, saying in a statement last month that "while I recognize the efforts of the CBC and appreciate their invitation for me to caucus with them, I will not be joining at this time. My campaign was never about race.

During the swearing-in ceremony, West joined in when other members applauded but refrained when speakers mentioned some of the Democratic accomplishments of the 111th Congress.

In a brief interview after the ceremony, West -- who kicked off his day at 5 a.m. with a seven-mile run on the National Mall with friends who came up from South Florida -- called it a "great day" but also acknowledged that he may be at odds with other members of the caucus.

"You bring a different perspective, but I think we're all working toward the same end, which is what is best for our country and within the African-American community," West said.

West also noted that he is making history not only by joining the CBC but also by being the first black Republican since Reconstruction to represent his home state of Florida.

"The last time there was a black Republican congressman from Florida it was back in the Reconstruction, Josiah T. Walls," West said. And to finally resurrect his legacy, that's what this is all about here. When you talk about the greatness of America, I think that it shows that this is where I should be and this is where my parents would've had me."

He dismissed the notion that he got off on the wrong foot with the hiring -- and subsequent firing -- of a bombastic talk radio host as his original chief of staff. (West's new chief of staff is Jonathan Blyth, who previously served as chief of staff to Reps. Bob Barr (R-Ga.) and Bill Martini (R-N.J.).)

"There's no controversy," West said. "The only people bringing it up is the media because you guys need sensationalism."

The CBC on Wednesday also inducted its new chairman, Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.), who succeeds outgoing Chair Barbara Lee (D-Calif.).

Outgoing Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) delivered remarks at the ceremony. Pelosi said that she was pleased to address the caucus as one of her last acts as speaker and noted that "two years from now, when we come together, things will be different."

Among those in attendance were Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson, Surgeon General Regina Benjamin, and Michael Strautmanis, chief of staff to White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett.

By Felicia Sonmez  | January 5, 2011; 11:47 AM ET
Categories:  44 The Obama Presidency  
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Comments

The article gave its emphasis to the wrong man. With no disrespect intended toward Mr. West, Representative Tim Scott's principled declination of the CBC invitation and his accompanying rationale for so doing was the real story, and how that more truly reflects a positive step toward achieving the goal of a truly post-racial American society. In so doing, he's a true role model for young men of all racial hues. Indeed, this goes back to his distinguished Army service, when he was willing to sacrifice a very promising military career in the interest of successfully protecting his troops' lives in combat. Way to go, Mr. Scott!

Posted by: msgrowan | January 6, 2011 12:48 PM | Report abuse

"There's no controversy," West said. "The only people bringing it up is the media because you guys need sensationalism."

You are joining the CBC? You are not joining CBC? You hired a "bombastic talk radio host as his original chief of staff". You are right in the thick of sensationalism, Mr. West.

Be a black man, Be a republican, join the CBC and be proud! What an idiot.

Posted by: ssanford001 | January 5, 2011 7:15 PM | Report abuse

I've said it before...what scares me is that people like West, Joe Miller, Eric Massa, Major Nidal, Capt. Honors rise to high positions in our military.

Something is wrong that these people are not being rooted out in the service academies or the field. Of course, desperation for warm bodies can make an organization very indiscriminate about who they hire and promote.

Posted by: edismae | January 5, 2011 6:47 PM | Report abuse

Bbbbbbbbuuuuuuttttttt......I thought he had said he will not join the Black Caucus!

I guess a man has to eat his breakfast somewhere!

Posted by: kishorgala | January 5, 2011 5:17 PM | Report abuse

West said he has no need to learn from his mistakes.

THAT is scary.

Posted by: Garak | January 5, 2011 2:17 PM | Report abuse

I actually prefer Rep Scott. He's moved on past race unlike many in America today. My hat is off to Rep Scott. Congratulations sir.

Posted by: Desertdiva1 | January 5, 2011 2:15 PM | Report abuse

Let him start his own caucus. Repuglicans hate black people.

Posted by: WmLaney | January 5, 2011 1:19 PM | Report abuse

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