Speaking "from the heart" to some of his most loyal supporters, President Clinton thanked black Americans on Saturday for "standing up for me and understanding the true meaning of repentance and atonement."

Clinton, speaking at the annual dinner of the Congressional Black Caucus, credited black legislators for supporting his policies and helping to promote "this treasured moment of prosperity and progress."But he laid out a long list of challenges yet to be conquered, everything from containing the global financial crisis to expanding access to health care and eliminating racism.

Over and over, he declared: "We cannot rest. We have work to do."

He listed a number of areas in which minorities are affected disproportionately, including certain health problems and fair housing. And he stressed the importance of making sure the next census does not leave out many minorities.

"This has enormous consequences for how we distribute the bounty of America," he said.

The president opened his remarks by offering special thanks "from the heart" to the caucus for its support in a time of trouble. Without mentioning the Monica Lewinsky investigation directly, he said: "I want to thank you for standing up for me and understanding the true meaning of repentance and atonement."

Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif, chairwoman of the black caucus, got a standing ovation as she told her organization that while blacks do not always agree with the president, "We support Bill Clinton at this critical moment in his career." She added: "It is because African Americans are uniquely qualified to know unfairness when we see it.'

She said of the Lewinsky investigation, "Let the word go forth: The Congressional Black Caucus will be the fairness cops. We will make sure at every step of the way Bill Clinton will have the opportunity to lay his case out without being jeopardized."

The president was joined at the black caucus dinner by Vice President Al Gore, who earlier in the evening addressed the Human Rights Campaign dinner of about 2000 gay and lesbian activists, another group that has remained loyal to Clinton.