The Congressional Black Caucus, a formidable bloc of lawmakers with a big say in the fate of President Donald Trump and his legislation, Monday sent him a terse, clear message: We don't think you understand us at all.
The caucus' chairman Monday urged cancellation of next month’s highly-anticipated meeting between White House officials and leaders of the nation’s historically black colleges. And he plans to have the 49-member caucus meet when Congress returns in two weeks to discuss whether to back Democratic-led efforts to impeach Trump.
Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-La., the caucus chairman, said the president’s remarks after the deadly August 12 protest in Charlottesville show he has no commitment to the schools or the African American community.
Richmond said the caucus was outraged by Trump’s assertion of “blame on both sides” for the violent rally dominated by neo-Nazis and white supremacists.
“You can make an argument based on pure competency and fitness to serve, and that’s the conversation the caucus will have,” Richmond told reporters in a conference call Monday. The caucus includes 46 House Democrats, Democratic Sens. Kamala Harris of California and Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, and Republican Rep. Mia Love of Utah.
“Am I concerned about high crimes and misdemeanors?” Richmond asked. “Absolutely. Am I concerned about this president’s fitness to serve? Absolutely.”
Republicans control 52 of the Senate’s 100 seats, and 240 of the House’s 435 seats, and there’s been no GOP talk of impeachment.
Trump has received heavy criticism both inside and outside of government for not forcefully condemning neo-Nazis and white supremacists in the immediate aftermath of the violence in Charlottesville.
He disbanded two business advisory panels after several of its members, CEOs of top American companies, resigned from the panels following Trump's response to the Charlottesville protest.
Richmond said he doesn’t need a CBC group discussion to say that Trump should scrap a National HBCU Week conference that administration officials planned for Sept. 17 to 19 in Washington.
The event is scheduled as a follow-up of sorts to Trump’s HBCU Initiative, a plan he announced with great fanfare in February.
The White House did not respond to a request for comment.
Trump signed an executive order for the initiative with more than six dozen black college presidents surrounding him. Its chief aim was to move responsibilities for HBCUs out of the Department of Education and into the White House with an executive director in charge.
Six months later, most of the HBCU portfolio remains in the Education Department and an executive director has not been named.
“Not only do I think it should be postponed, it shouldn’t have been happening in the first place,” Richmond said. “This White House isn’t serious about improving our HBCUs…They brought all those HBCU presidents to town, they took a picture in the Oval Office, and then they did nothing.”
Rep. Alma Adams, D-N.C., was the first lawmaker to call for next month’s meeting to be postponed.
She said last week that because of Trump’s handling of the events in Charlottesville and “zero progress on any of (the HBCUs’) priorities, it would be highly unproductive to ask HBCU presidents to come back to Washington.”
The Thurgood Marshall College Fund, an HBCU advocacy group that has been supportive of Trump’s outreach toward the schools, agreed.
“There is pretty strong consensus that the White House should consider postponing” next month’s meeting, Marshall College Fund President and CEO Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., wrote in a letter Friday to Omarosa Manigault-Newman, director for communications for the White House’s Office of Public Liaison.
Taylor said the ability of HBCU leaders to engage with representatives from federal agencies could be “overshadowed” by “concerns related to recent national events, ultimately making the conference counterproductive.”
Richmond criticized Manigault-Newman, questioning the value of dealing with the former reality television show celebrity who has served as Trump’s liaison to the African-American community since the 2016 presidential campaign.
“Omarosa is still pretending to have influence with this president,” he said. “I’m just surprised that she’s there as an African-American woman after his latest comments.”
Richmond’s comment reflects the terse relationship between the CBC and Trump. The caucus met with Trump in March. Afterward, Richmond said the CBC and the president shared similar goals but strongly disagreed on “the route to get there.”
The caucus rejected an invitation by Manigault-Newman for a follow-up meeting with Trump in June because “we have seen no evidence that your administration acted on our calls for action, and we have in fact witnessed steps that will affirmatively hurt black communities,” Richmond wrote in a letter.
At least three CBC members, Reps. Al Green, D-Texas., Maxine Waters, D-Calif., and Gwen Moore, D-Wis., have called for Trump’s impeachment.
Green said in June that Trump obstructed justice when he fired former FBI Director James Comey, who was investigating alleged Russian meddling in last year’s election. Moore last week cited Trump’s response to Charlottesville as proof he’s unfit for the Oval Office.
“For the sake of the soul of our country,” we must come together to restore our national dignity that has been robbed by Donald Trump’s presence in the White House,” she said last week. “My Republican friends, I implore you to work with us within our capacity as elected officials to remove this man as our commander-in-chief and help us move forward from this dark period in our nation’s history.”