They can join. But should they?

In an e-mail to The Daily Caller this morning, CBC Chairwoman Barbara Lee, California Democrat, wrote that both of the recently elected African-American Republicans, West and South Carolina’s Tim Scott, will be accepted if they decide to join.

“During the 40-year history of the Congressional Black Caucus there have been three African-American Republican members of the House of Representatives. Two, Congressmen Melvin Evans of the Virgin Islands and Gary Franks of Connecticut, decided to join the Congressional Black Caucus, however, Congressman J.C. Watts of Oklahoma did not,” Lee wrote.

She continued, “Membership in the Congressional Black Caucus has never been restricted to Democrats. Should either of the two African-American Republicans recently elected to the House of Representatives request membership in the Congressional Black Caucus they will be welcomed.”

The last Republican member of the CBC left in 1996. As you’ll see near the end of the clip below, West is intent on joining on grounds that he is, after all, fully qualified for membership, notwithstanding the fact that members of the CBC mobilized to try to defeat him in his race against Ron Klein. It’s smart politics: He’ll break the liberal stranglehold on the caucus and, presumably, make Democratic members think twice before campaigning against him again in 2012. And yet, I’m sympathetic to Tim Scott’s principled assimilationist reluctance to participate in any org drawn along racial lines. Quote: “My experience has been the whole notion of one nation — so I really shy away things that create some kind of boundaries. … It highlights the divisions I’ve been pushing forward to erase.”

One way to ease (if not erase) Scott’s concerns would be to open the caucus to white members too, of course. But while the CBC is fully prepared to endorse white candidates over black ones, the door to the club for the moment remains closed.