Congressman G.K. Butterfield will be the next leader of the Congressional Black Caucus. Butterfield — who represents much of the eastern part of the state — was unanimously elected on Wednesday. Just after winning that leadership post, Butterfield sat down with Washington bureau reporter Geoff Bennett.

WASHINGTON—Beginning in January, Democratic Rep. G.K. Butterfield, who represents North Carolina’s first district, will lead the 45-member Congressional Black Caucus, also known as the CBC.

The group was established in 1971 to address the policy concerns of a growing number of African-Americans in Congress.

“It’s one of the highest honors of my lifetime to be elected unanimously as the chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus for the 114th Congress, and I take this work very seriously,” said Butterfield.

Even though an African-American now occupies the Oval Office, Butterfield said the CBC is as relevant as ever.

“It’s the role of the Congressional Black Caucus legislatively to fight every day to protect those in our communities – not just Africa- Americans – but those who have been left out of the American dream and this new economy,” he said.

He said his chief task is to maintain the group’s reputation as the “conscience of the Congress,” while tackling issues such as unemployment, income inequality and access to quality education.

“The Republican party has taken control of the legislative branch of government and so our responsibility has increased,” said Butterfield. “We’ve got to get in there and fight.”

While the CBC is non-partisan, it’s dominated by Democrats. Butterfield said he welcomes black Republicans into the fold.

“What we would ask of them is that they embrace – if not totally – at least the core principles of the Congressional Black Caucus.”

And Butterfield, who recently celebrated his 10th year in Congress, said his new leadership position will give him a “louder voice” in representing the first district.

“The first district of North Carolina has a high incidence of unemployment,” he said. “We still have a great disparity in healthcare and access to healthcare. And so, while I lead these 45 men and women for the next two years in national issues, I’ve got to continue to focus on and be a part of solutions in the first congressional district. And so my work has been multiplied. But I’m up for the challenge, and I’m up for the job I’ve been assigned.”

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