Congressional Black Caucus says meeting with Trump was a 'positive first start'

PHOTO: President Donald Trump signs one of three executive orders including withdrawing the US from the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, as Chief of Staff Reince Priebus looks on in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC, Jan. 23, 2017.PlaySaul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images
WATCH Congressional Black Caucus responds to President Trump's request

Members of the Congressional Black Caucus went to the White House today for their first official meeting with President Donald Trump.

The meeting, which comes five weeks after Trump asked a reporter at a press conference to help set up a discussion with the group, was organized primarily to discuss Trump’s new budget proposal, which Chairman Cedric Richmond, D-Louisiana, said at a press conference this afternoon would be “devastating” for the African-American community.

Rep. Karen Bass, D-California, said that the group raised “several areas of concern” but added that it was a “positive first start.”

According to Bass, among the concerns raised were Trump’s campaign rhetoric depicting African-American communities as “completely lawless,” his proposed budget cuts, mass incarceration and the "rolling back" of the Voting Rights Act.

Richmond said Trump seemed “willing to have further engagement on a consistent basis,” and that when the group and the president discussed their goals, there were more similarities than differences.

Richmond added that the caucus members aligned with Trump on the need for infrastructure improvements and for inner-city neighborhoods to be “as safe as possible,” as well as that Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) are an important priority for funding.

However, Richmond also said they differed on their opinions of how to achieve their shared goals.

“His path as described was more on the lines of law and order; we offered one more of opportunity and summer jobs,” Richmond said.

Richmond noted that the president was receptive to their suggestions, “many of which I think he had not heard before.”

“I don’t think it was terse at any time,” Richmond said. “I think that both sides are very passionate about how to get to the goals but we were very firm in terms of our experiences and how we see the result.”

Richmond said that two points of disagreement raised by Rep. Andre Carson, D-Indiana, were the importance of community policing and of Muslim Americans who “serve as our eyes and our ears and speak up.”

“That was not an area of agreement coming in but it was something that had to be said from our standpoint because those are the things that we believe in,” Richmond said.

Trump has, at times, been criticized for his attitude toward the African-American community, including for his long-running claim that former President Barack Obama was born in Kenya as well as for his more recent clash with civil rights leader Rep. John Lewis, D-Georgia.

When asked about allegations that Trump has expressed racist viewpoints, Richmond said, “You’ll have to ask the people that made those allegations” but added that the caucus discussed with the president his “divisive rhetoric” and how it might be harmful to African-American communities.

Rep. Gwen Moore, D-Wisconsin, said they made a point to tell the president that “a lot of the policies he’s proposing will not only have an impact on African-Americans but a greater impact for those that voted for him,” particularly those that are suffering from economic insecurity.

Richmond emphasized that they’ll keep the lines of communication open: “We’re not called 'the conscience of the Congress' for nothing. ... It’s because we have the will to fight and follow our conscience.”