President Trump reaches out to Black America via meetings with a wary Congressional Black Caucus and the Black Press, punctuated by his top-ranking Black aide walking away from a breakfast with Black newspaper publishers.
COMPILED FROM WIRE REPORTS
WASHINGTON – In two separate meetings last week with Black members of Congress in the Black Press, the Trump administration formally began its promised outreach to African-Americans.
On March 22, President Trump and key members of his White House team, including Vice President Mike Pence and top Black aide Omarosa Manigault, met a small delegation representing the 49-member Congressional Black Caucus (CBC). Her official title is Assistant to the President and Director of Communications for the Office of Public Liaison.
A day later, Manigault represented Trump at a breakfast meeting with the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA), the trade group of more than 150 Black newspapers around the country.
No photo op
The entire caucus had been invited to the White House but CBC Chairman Cedric Richmond (D-La.) wanted to present a businesslike front and avoid being used as a photo opportunity as many have charged was the case with Historically Black College and University leaders who met with the president earlier this month.
Despite the objections of some CDC members, he limited participation to the executive board, which included Representatives Andre Carson (Indiana), Anthony Brown (Maryland), Brenda Lawrence (Michigan), Gwen Moore (Wisconsin), and Karen Bass (California), all Democrats. Assistant Democratic Leader Rep. James Clyburn (South Carolina) also attended.
American kids neglected
Trump, in his opening remarks, echoed his campaign trail rhetoric.
“Throughout my campaign, I pledged to focus on improving conditions for African-American citizens. This means more to me than anybody would understand or know,” he 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.”
The president added that the U.S. has spent trillions of dollars overseas “while neglecting the fate of American children in cities like Baltimore and Chicago and Detroit.”
‘A lot to lose’
Such statements strike many Black lawmakers and leaders as hypocritical, given the adverse impact they believe the White House’s budget proposal would have on African-American communities, and the views held by several of his Cabinet secretaries that threaten to reverse hard-won gains.
Some believe part of Trump’s problem is that he is uninformed and doesn’t have the right people in place to educate him. That’s why the group arrived at the White House armed with a 125-page document titled, “We Have a Lot to Lose: Solutions to Advance Black Families in the 21st Century.”
It highlights problems related to the CBC’s top priorities, including economic, environmental and criminal justice, healthcare, and voting rights, and offers what it describes as “bold policy solutions.”
The title comes from Trump’s typical campaign speech. When asking for Black voters’ support, he would ask, “What do you have to lose?”
The CBC members also gave the president letters to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, written by Reps. John Conyers (Michigan) and Bobby Scott (Virginia) in which they expressed major areas of concern.
Richmond told reporters after the meeting that the CBC is the only group of Black elected officials who develop federal policy and can also offer diverse viewpoints.
“There were many areas where we disagreed with the policy solutions prescribed by his budget, but it was a meeting where both sides listened and where we were very candid about disagreements,” Richmond said.
“But the surprising part was that when we talked about the goals, there were more similarities than there were differences. The route to get there is where I think you may see differences and part of that is just education and life experiences.”
Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison, who also is the deputy chairman of the Democratic National Committee, is less optimistic than some of his fellow CBC members.
“I think it’s the responsibility of the CBC leadership to try to reach out to the president. I also doubt that, based on his history, he will do anything to help us,” Ellison said. “But still, you’ve got to ask. You don’t want him to be able to say, ‘Well, they never asked.’”
There were some areas of agreement, Richmond noted, including infrastructure spending, which will create jobs, and enabling all American children opportunities to reach their full potential despite their socio-economic status. The latter is an example of a goal the two sides share, he noted, cautioning more than once that “the question is, do we have the same path to get there?”
The president’s approach is more “law and order,” he added, while the CBC is more focused on building ladders of opportunity through initiatives like summer jobs and education.
“Trump listened and we talked, and we proposed a lot of solutions, many of which I think he had not heard before. We’re going to keep advocating. Where we agree, we will agree; where we disagree, we will fight with the passion that this caucus has had since 1971 when our first meeting was with President Nixon.”
The day after the CBC meeting, Manigault walked out of the NNPA breakfast before it ended. The catalyst for the walkout was a reporter’s question that led to a dispute about the accuracy of a story written by Black journalist Hazel Trice Edney in January.
The story quoted civil rights lawyer Barbara Arnwine as stating that Manigault promised the “first interview” with Trump to NNPA President Benjamin Chavis during a Jan. 4 Trump transition team meeting with Black leaders.
Manigault doesn’t dispute having promised the interview. However, she was incensed because the story said she promised Chavis “the first” interview.
It is not clear whether the Trump staff made a recording of the meeting since it was off the record.
Since the meeting, some have speculated that perhaps Manigault meant Chavis would be the first Black Press representative to interview Trump rather than the first journalist.
The sudden move by Manigault, a minister and former TV reality star, clearly shocked NNPA members and their guests, especially since Manigault had called the chair of the historic group the night before and “asked to attend,” according to NNPA Chair Denise Rolark Barnes.
Ironically, during opening remarks, Manigault had praised Black journalists for historically asking “the tough questions.”
Question about access
Stacy Brown, a reporter for the Washington Informer and NNPA contributor had asked the first question at the breakfast, noting Manigault’s opening words about the importance of Black Press coverage.
“Just as important for us is access,” Brown stated, “What kind of access can we expect from this administration? When I say ‘we,’ I’m talking about the Black Press,” Brown asked.
Referring to the meeting with the CBC, Manigault said she believed the White House “had a historical number of African-American journalists covering it and given access to that particular event.”
But Washington Informer photographer Shevry Lassiter, quickly responded, “Except us.” Lassiter said she was told that too many people had signed up for coverage, giving her the perception that “We were too late.”
Not enough room?
When Manigault responded, “Your paper work has got to be right,” Lassiter clarified, “It was right.
We got notice and sent it in; then couldn’t get in. She said they had too many,” Lassiter said, referring to a staffer.
“Are you bashing my young staffer?” Manigault asked. She then stated repeatedly, “I’m not going to let you do that.”
That exchange was followed by Edney’s question and the brouhaha that followed. Manigault then abruptly walked out with staffers in tow a little more than 10 minutes after arriving.
“How is she going to come in here and just walk out?” asked Chicago Crusader Publisher Dorothy Leavell, standing. “And any other Black Press person ought to be insulted by what she did. It was totally disrespectful.”
GOP political commentator and consultant Paris Dennard, also present at the breakfast meeting, said in an interview that the question was adversarial.
“With all due respect to you, Hazel, it came off as a bit confrontational,” Dennard said. “It came off as being a little bit on the attack.”
Chavis sought to calm the group after Manigault walked out, stating that he believes the interview is still on.
Later, in an interview speaking as NNPA chair, Barnes said: “To me, I almost feel as if we were baited…I expected a different presentation from her, which would have led us into asking a different set of questions about the issues she was going to raise and not get into this personal confrontation with a journalist.
“So, I’m disappointed that she didn’t – in my opinion – come in and speak on the president’s and on the administration’s behalf about things that are important to this administration that the Black Press should be focusing on. That didn’t happen. It was a lost opportunity for the president. And it was definitely a waste of time for NNPA.”
Hazel Trice Edney and Jane Kennedy of the Trice Edney News Wire contributed to this report.