Live Chat: Congressman J.C. Watts

July 31, 2000 -- The only African-American Republican in Congress and an up-and-coming GOP star, Oklahoma Rep. J.C. Watts will undoubtedly have high visibility at this week's Republican National Convention in Philadelphia.

The former youth minister and professional football player had the national spotlight at the GOP Convention in San Diego and again the following year when he was called on to deliver the Republican response to President Clinton's State of the Union Address.

What does Watts think of the Republican party's efforts to reach out to minority voters? Watts joined a chat on, live from the convention floor. Read the transcript below.

Moderator at 10:01pm ET

Rep. J.C. Watts now joins us. Welcome, and thanks for being here this evening!

J.C. Watts at 10:02pm ET

Hello everyone, and thank you very much for joining us and allowing me to be with you this evening.

Moderator at 10:02pm ET

Congressman Watts, you and Sen. John McCain make an unusual political duo. Why are the two of you teaming up?

J.C. Watts at 10:03pm ET

One, John and I are friends. Two, we think we can help bring people into the party and draw them into our effort in November.

There's many things that John did in his campaign that I've been doing over the past five and a half years to grow our party and to get more people involved in the process. Anyone looking at new models — dealing with poverty, making sure our kids have the best education possible, making sure we pay down our national debt, having a strong national defense and bringing about tax relief and tax fairness for working people — they'll have a seat at the table.

Moderator at 10:04pm ET

What kind of voters will you try to attract to the GOP, and why do you think you'll succeed?

J.C. Watts at 10:07pm ET

We want Republicans, Democrats, Independents, Reform Party, libertarians, vegetarians — we want everybody to join us. We think people of all different political persuasions have a lot in common with us when we talk about education, tax fairness, strong national defense and protecting the Social Security surplus.

We have our models, but we're open to listening to their ideas as well. We think it's important that we not just sit behind closed doors with so-called policy experts and policy wonks. We think the American people have good ideas as well. Just as I ask my constituents in the fourth district of Oklahoma their ideas in town meetings, we think we can do the same across the country.

Moderator at 10:07pm ET

Byron Sneed asks: What methods of outreach is the GOP taking to attract black American voters?

J.C. Watts at 10:07pm ET

Consider the facts since Republicans have been in the majority: Unemployment in the black community is the lowest it's been in years; home ownership in the black community is as high as it's been in years; the black middle class has expanded over the last five and a half years we've been in control.

We put more money in education programs, like Trio, that helps underserved kids continue their education beyond high school and gives them tutoring and special-needs assistance to make sure they stay in college beyond the first year. We put more money in Pell grants, which helps underserved kids, black kids.

We just passed community-renewal legislation that focuses strictly on poor communities, inner cities and poor rural communities, for economic development, for home ownership, for opportunities, for savings — it strictly targets poor communities. I offered this legislation five years ago. We passed it last July. The president vetoed it in August, and hopefully he'll work with us to sign it before the October break this year.

Michael Hill from at 10:10pm ET

What should the Republican party do to attract and retain more African-Americans?

J.C. Watts at 10:11pm ET

I think we need to do a much better job in articulating what we have done. The things I just mentioned have happened on a Republican clock. We need to do things to let all Americans know, and especially black Americans know, what we've done: The lowest unemployment in the black community in years, the highest home ownership in years. And the list goes on and on.

Moderator at 10:12pm ET

Symmetry in our audience writes: You're billed as the only African-American Republican in Congress. How do you feel about so much attention being paid to your race? What, if anything, would you rather be known for?

J.C. Watts at 10:13pm ET

I'm looking forward to the day when America will mature to the point that we are a color-blind society. I'm not so sure that in politics that will ever be reality, because politics has a way of separating us based on skin color.

I am willing to compete on my merits and on my character — not with the color of my skin. We talk about being a color-blind society, but I don't think the political process could actually handle that.

AK from at 10:14pm ET

Can you comment on Bush picking Cheney as a running mate? Any thoughts on his voting record, specifically on his vote regarding Nelson Mandela?

J.C. Watts at 10:15pm ET

Dick Cheney is a good man; I've worked with him very closely. He served as chairman and C.E.O. of Halliburton. Halliburton was started in my district, and today they employ about 2,000 people in my district. I know Dick Cheney very well. I know him personally. He's not a racist. He's a good man and he's very fair.

On Mandela, the resolution was offered, and in this resolution it not only was a sense of Congress to free Mandela, it also wanted to recognize the African National Congress as the leader of the majority of blacks. The ANC had some terrorist things going on. They also were self-proclaimed communists, and in the 80s we were trying, as a nation, to defeat communism.

That's why Dick Cheney voted against that resolution; it wasn't because of Nelson Mandela. Cheney has great respect for Nelson Mandela. And by the way, many Democrats also voted the way Mr. Cheney did.

Moderator at 10:18pm ET

Matt Robinson writes: What is your position on reparations for the descendants of U.S. Slaves.

J.C. Watts at 10:19pm ET

Reparations, I believe, are talked about for political reasons, trying to cater for the purpose of getting votes. If Congress was serious about reparations — in '93 and '94 the Democrats controlled the Housure, the Senate and the White House, and not one single Republican vote was needed for reparations.

Moderator at 10:20pm ET

Frank McClintock writes: Rep. Watts, looking back on the Republican party's conservative attitude toward many minority issues, do you think that George Bush Jr. will make a genuine effort to address those issues, and not just use them as part of his platform to become president?

J.C. Watts at 10:22pm ET

What issues? Which issues? "Minority issues" — that's too general.

If you're talking education for the minority community, Governor Bush has taken black kids and Hispanic kids and has brought them up to a standard where they can compete academically. Governor Bush hasn't just talked about these things, he has done them.

His vote total in the black community went from 15 percent in 1994 to 27 percent in 1998. He got 48 percent of the Hispanic vote and 65 percent of the female vote. So those numbers prove he has backed up his talk.

JB from at 10:22pm ET

What are your thoughts on the divisive issue of abortion? How much does the Republican Party need to yield to pro-choice ideas? Or should it stand firm against abortion?

J.C. Watts at 10:23pm ET

I think the Republican Party should be a pro-life party. I am pro-life. I do not apologize for that. On the flip side of that coin, the Republican Party has been big enough to allow pro-choice advocates to be heard. We have pro-choice advocates participating in our convention activities.

On the Democrat's side, if you recall, as recently as the 1996 convention, the pro-life people were closed out of the Democrat's convention. So, I don't understand how Republicans, who allow pro-choice people to have their say, are being "exclusive," but the Democrats, who close out the pro-life advocates, are being "inclusive." I personally call it a double standard.

Moderator at 10:25pm ET

Congressman Watts, thank you for joining us this evening. Thank you to our audience for participating in this event. Click here to check out our full lineup of GOP convention chats.