By Lauren Victoria Burke (NNPA Newswire Contributor)
Carrying a 130-page document titled, “We Have A Lot To Lose: Solutions to Advance Black Families in the 21st Century,” members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) sat down with President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence to discuss a range of issues affecting the Black community.
Congressional Black Caucus Chairman Cedric Richmond (D-La.), and the CBC executive board, which includes Reps. Karen Bass (D-Calif.), Gwen Moore (D-Wisc.), Andre Carson (D-Ind.), Brenda Lawrence (D-Mich.) and Anthony Brown (D-Md.) attended the meeting; senior CBC member Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) also attended the meeting.
The CBC delegation discussed proposed federal budget cuts, Historically Black Colleges and Universities and jobs with the commander-in-chief.
The meeting, which was the first between CBC leadership and President Trump, started in the Cabinet Room and later moved into the Oval Office after members of the press recorded part of the gathering.
There has been a lot of discussion about whether the CBC should take a meeting with Trump, because of the president’s rhetoric regarding Black communities. On the campaign trail, Trump often painted the Black community with a broad brush, sensationalizing the poverty and violence that plagues some neighborhoods while neglecting the stories of Black achievement and success.
Despite his parade of Black celebrity friends, Trump’s relationship with the African American community is often defined by the incendiary media campaign he ran against the “Central Park Five,” four Black and one Hispanic youth, who were charged and convicted for the brutal sexual assault of a young, White investment banker in New York City’s Central Park in 1989. Trump paid for ads in four of the city’s newspapers.
“A couple of weeks after the attack, the real-estate developer Donald Trump reportedly paid $85,000 to take out advertising space in four of the city’s newspapers, with the headline: ‘Bring Back The Death Penalty. Bring Back Our Police!’” wrote Quartz, the news website. “The boys’ lawyer, Michael Warren, told the Guardian that Trump and his ad ‘poisoned the minds of many people who lived in New York and who, rightfully, had a natural affinity for the victim.’”
Years later, all five men were cleared of all charges, their convictions were vacated and Mayor Bill de Blasio supported a $41 million settlement in 2014.
Trump and his father, Fred Trump, also faced housing discrimination allegations in the 1970s, when it was discovered that Blacks were routinely blocked from living in some of the apartments operated by the Trump Management Company. The case was settled, “with no admission of guilt.”
So why meet with Trump? Members of the Black Caucus were pointed.
“President Trump has met with various African Americans, however we’re the only African Americans that are elected to the United States Congress that can develop policy and offer a different viewpoint,” said Chairman Richmond as he left the White House. “The CBC represents 78 million Americans, we consistently fight [against] poverty, no matter who it affects.”
Rep. Lawrence, who represents parts of Detroit, said that the CBC doesn’t have the luxury of passing on a meeting with president.
“If there’s an opportunity to improve life for our constituents, we will take it,” said Lawrence.
The congresswoman spoke with Trump about recent news that the Environmental Protection Agency has set aside $100 million to address the water crisis in Flint, Mich. Lawrence said she was surprised that Trump knew the details of the situation and asked her who was at fault.
“It was a meeting where both sides listened and it was a meeting where we were very candid about disagreements,” said Chairman Richmond at the White House. “The surprising part is when we talked about the goals; there were more similarities than differences. The route to get there is where you may see differences; part of that is just education and life experiences.”
Each member at the meeting said that there were several direct and blunt exchanges with the president.
Rep. Bass said that she told the president that his comments about African American communities were not only hurtful, but also had the potential to perpetuate negative stereotypes about Blacks and to shape the discourse surrounding mass incarceration and police reform.
Rep. Carson, a former police officer who was the second Muslim elected to Congress in 2008, said that he confronted Trump about some of the negative comments that Trump made about Muslim Americans and Islam during his 2016 presidential campaign.
The CBC members were surprised when Trump offered to meet with the group on a regular basis, perhaps quarterly. The members noted that it would take more than scheduled meetings in the Oval Office to affect systemic change in the U.S.
The members also talked to the president about the impact of his recent budget blueprint that includes cuts to education and urban development.
With Republicans in control of the U.S. Senate, the House of Representatives and the White House, the Black Caucus is gearing up for a series of tough legislative battles over the next 19 months, until the midterm elections in November 2018.
“We never thought we’d agree on everything in this meeting, but the one thing we did ask for is [candor],” the CBC chairman told reporters at the White House after the meeting with Trump. “He listened, and we talked, and we proposed a lot of solutions, many of which, I think, he had not heard before, and we’re going to keep advocating.”
Lauren Victoria Burke is a political analyst who speaks on politics and African American leadership. She is also a frequent contributor to the NNPA Newswire and BlackPressUSA.com. Connect with Lauren by email at LBurke007@gmail.com and on Twitter at @LVBurke.