After sparring from afar for weeks, President Donald Trump and leaders of the Congressional Black Caucus met for the first time at the White House Wednesday and agreed on major issues but remained far apart on solutions.
“His path, as described, was more of the lines of law and order...we offered one more of opportunity, summer jobs and education,”said Black Caucus Chair Cedric Richmond, D-La.
Richmond said he and members of the CBC’s executive committee spoke bluntly to Trump about some of the harsh rhetoric he used on the campaign trail. They noted how cuts in his $1.5 trillion budget proposal would adversely impact an African-American community that he vowed to be “the greatest champion” of as a candidate.
“It was a meeting where both sides listened, and it was a meeting where we were very candid about disagreements,” Richmond told reporters after the meeting. “But the surprising part was when we talked about goals, they were more similar than different. The route to get there, I think, is where you see difference.”
The black caucus members handed Trump a 130-page CBC-authored document titled “We Have a Lot to Lose: Solutions to Advance Black Families in the 21st Century.” The title is a play on Trump’s presidential campaign pitch to African-American voters last year – “What the hell do you have to lose?”
At the meeting, Trump reiterated his pledge to improve the lives of an African-American community that gave him 8 percent of its vote, saying “this means more to me than anybody can understand.”
He explained how “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. America has spent trillions and trillions of dollars overseas.”
Trump said he heard “just recently in the Middle East we’ve spent, as of about two months ago, $6 trillion, $6 trillion. And you know where we are over there, while neglecting the fate of American children in cities like Baltimore and Chicago and Detroit.”
The lawmakers, who included Assistant Democratic Leader James Clyburn, D-S.C. and Reps. Karen Bass, D-Calif., and Andre Carson, D-Ind., mentioned how hurtful some of Trump’s campaign rhetoric was to the African-American community, particularly his belief that former President Barack Obama wasn’t born in the United States.
Trump, in brief remarks in September, backed off that claim.
"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," Bass said.
The black lawmakers also pointed out the contributions of Muslim Americans to the nation’s security by pointing out that Carson, a Muslim, is a former police officer and a member of the House Intelligence Committee.
Richmond said the CBC leaders and the president agreed that infrastructure spending , improving the lives of African-Americans in the inner cities, and bolstering the nation’s historically black colleges and universities are priorities. Trump in his budget maintained funding the HBCUs and minority-serving institutions at $492 million.
Richmond said Trump offered to meet the black caucus on a regular basis and would have cabinet secretaries meet with the group. Omarosa Manigault, assistant to the president and director of communications for the Office of Public Liaison, said Trump wants to meet with the entire black caucus.
“We made the offer to meet quarterly with the entire CBC, that was our initial request,” she said. “And the president said ‘Yeah, we’d like to meet all 49 members.’ Each of them are reaching out to us individually anyway, fighting for their district. They’re going behind leadership saying ‘we want to meet’ so why not have them all in the room to talk about the agenda?”
Black caucus officials didn’t bring the entire group because they didn’t want Wednesday’s meeting to turn into a photo-op, the way a meeting with presidents from the nation’s historically black colleges and universities turned into an Oval Office group picture last month.
Richmond called Wednesday’s meeting productive but some black caucus members said they remain wary of Trump and his his administration.
Rep. Alma Adams, D-N.C., who didn’t attend the meeting, said Trump “obviously doesn’t have the right people advising him,” she said in a statement Wednesday. “That’s why today’s meeting was so important and why the CBC provided key objectives from our constituencies for the President.”
Trump and the black caucus had gotten off to a rocky start in the new year. Trump alienated the group in January when he rhetorically attacked Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., who said he doesn’t consider Trump to be a legitimate president, citing allegations of Russian meddling leading up to the U.S. elections.
Trump, via Twitter, called Lewis, a civil rights icon, “All talk, talk, talk – no action or results. Sad.” Lewis was severely beaten by Alabama state troopers in 1965 when he led a voting rights march from Selma to Montgomery.
Last month, Trump asked April Ryan, White House correspondent for American Urban Radio Networks, if she wanted to arrange a session with the black caucus when she asked him whether he would meet with the group.
“Do you want to set up the meeting?” Trump said. “Are they friends of yours?”
As they gathered before reporters after Wednesday’s White House meeting, Richmond and Clyburn each jokingly thanked Ryan for arranging it.