President Donald Trump’s inflammatory tweets and remarks during the dramatic first weeks of his presidency have exacerbated his already fraught relationship with African American lawmakers. But during his heavily anticipated first meeting with the Congressional Black Caucus on Wednesday, he was given the opportunity to listen and possibly make peace.
“There was an interaction on that issue and I think it was important to sort of just clear the air,” said Gwen Moore, the Vice Chair of the CBC, said diplomatically when asked if the President issued an apology to the group.
“We’re trying to build good faith in the meeting,” the Wisconsin Democrat told CBS News.
Democrats have taken issue with Trump’s bleak -- and at times inaccurate -- characterization of African American communities. Caucus chairman Rep. Cedric Richmond, a Democrat from Louisiana, told reporters after the meeting that the CBC was discouraged from visiting the White House.
But Moore said refusing to engage was a “luxury” she did not have.
“We don’t have the luxury of saying we won’t meet with the President of the U.S.,” she said. “We have 1,399 more days left in his presidency and I don’t think that our communities would be served well by our not engaging.”
Richmond described the meeting to reporters as a “positive first start” in which they candidly discussed their obvious disagreements but also discovered some “surprising” overlapping goals, such as a potential infrastructure bill.
Mr. Trump indicated that he was committed to fulfilling the pledge he made during the campaign to improve the lives of African Americans.
“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,” Mr. Trump told reporters prior to the start of their gathering.
The conversation was “not terse,” according to Richmond, and they did not shy away from addressing contentious issues. Caucus vice chair Rep. Karen Bass, a Democrat from California, said she communicated their displeasure with Trump’s depiction of African Americans on the campaign trail.
Richmond also criticized Trump’s newly proposed “skinny” budget and said cuts would have devastating effects on the African American community. Moore added that the GOP healthcare plan that Trump is scrambling to pass through Congress would also disproportionately hurt African Americans. She did, however, welcome Ivanka Trump’s childcare plan - a proposal that would offer childcare tax credits.
“I really appreciate the initiative that his daughter Ivanka wants to take with childcare,” Moore said. “Childcare is a huge barrier for women in general and poor women in particular in terms of entering the workforce.”
Their first meeting finally came about after Mr. Trump asked longtime White House reporter April Ryan, who is African American, at a press conference if she could arrange a meeting with the CBC for him.
The CBC responded with a tweet of a letter sent to Trump, dated January 19th, requesting a meeting. The invitation had gone unanswered.
“Hi, @realDonaldTrump. We’re the CBC. We sent you a letter on January 19, but you never wrote us back. Sad!,” the CBC wrote in an additional tweet.
During Wednesday’s meeting, the CBC presented Trump and his staff with policy booklets titled, “We Have a Lot to Lose: Solutions to Advance Black Families in the 21st Century,” a reference to Trump’s pitch to voters of color on the campaign trail. “What do you have to lose?” Mr. Trump asked repeatedly when addressing black voters.
Both parties agreed to meet on a consistent basis going forward.
“I think we’re going to have a lot of meetings over the years and I very much appreciate you being here,” the president said.
TrMr. ump’s limited outreach to the African American community prior to this meeting has yielded controversial headlines.
Days before Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Trump blasted Rep. John Lewis, a civil rights icon, with a series of tweets attacking the Georgia Democrat. Lewis should “spend more time on fixing and helping his district… and focus on the burning and crime infested inner-cities,” Mr. Trump wrote.
Maryland Congressman Elijah Cummings visited the White House earlier in March to discuss the rising costs of prescription drugs. He told reporters after the meeting that he had also asked the President to soften his language towards black communities.
“We’ll see if that happens,” Moore said Wednesday.