WASHINGTON – Black lawmakers emerged from a meeting with President Donald Trump at the White House last Wednesday saying the president was at least willing to listen to their concerns that his policies and positions could hurt their African American constituents.
However, beyond a promise of future dialogue and a discussion about “divisive rhetoric,” it seemed that there was little change in either the White House’s mind or the minds of the leadership of the Congressional Black Caucus on issues like the president’s approach to health care, police misconduct investigations, criminal justice, education or funding for Historically Black Colleges and Universities.
“He listened and we talked and we proposed a lot of solutions, many of which I think he had not heard before. We’ll keep advocating,” said Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-La., caucus chairman, who presented the White House with written copies of the group’s history and agenda.
Trump met with the lawmakers in the Cabinet Room and the Oval Office, with a candid photo tweeted by White House press secretary Sean Spicer showing the president in conversation with Richmond; Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., the House’s No. 3 Democrat; and other members of the caucus leadership.
Before the meeting, Trump reminded the media that he pledged during his campaign to “improve conditions for African American citizens.”
“This means more to me than anybody should understand,” Trump said. “Every American child has a right to grow up in a safe community, to attend great schools, to graduate with access to high-paying jobs.”
But Black lawmakers said they reminded Trump in a “candid” discussion that many in their community still hold against him some of his campaign statements, including that former President Barack Obama, the first African American president, was not born in the United States. Trump received only 8 percent of the African American vote in last November’s election.
“Several areas of concern were raised, including the way that African American communities were depicted during the campaign as being areas that were completely lawless,” said Rep. Karen Bass, D-Calif.
When asked whether he thought Trump was a racist after Wednesday’s meeting, Richmond was very careful. “He’s the 45th president of the United States and we talked about issues that were critically important to the African American community,” Richmond said. “We talked about divisive rhetoric that hurts African Americans and that may cause more divide in this country.”
There were areas of agreement, Richmond said, including the need for infrastructure spending, and the importance of increasing safety for Black families in the nation’s inner cities. He also noted that money for Historically Black Colleges and Universities was not cut in Trump’s budget, although there was no increase in funding for those schools.
Trump offered up meetings with his Cabinet secretaries, including Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and offered to meet with the CBC on a quarterly basis. But Trump adviser Omarosa Manigault said they want to meet with all 49 members of the caucus, not just the leadership.
“They’re not a monolith,” she said after the meeting, pointing out that they get requests from Black lawmakers all the time about individual projects and districts. “The CBC has different voices, different priorities, different constituents, and we have to address each of those and not just the seven people who came today.”
In fact, Richmond said his constituents, Black voters and even caucus members urged him to cancel the meeting and instead focus only on resisting the president’s agenda and reducing the chances for his re-election, similar to what he said tea party Republicans did to Obama.
He said “if our only action is to resist,” African Americans around the country are going to suffer disproportionately.
The CBC is made up of 49 Black members of Congress, mostly Democrats with one Republican member.