Many African-Americans are expressing outrage over a testy exchange between President Donald Trump and a veteran black journalist, with many considering the incident to be the latest indication of his inability to relate to them.
Already skeptical of Trump, many blacks said they were exasperated by the fact that, during his news conference on Thursday, the new president asked April Ryan, longtime White House correspondent for American Urban Radio Networks, to help broker a meeting for him with black lawmakers.
“Will you meet with the Congressional Black Caucus?” Ryan asked. Trump responded: “I would. You want to set up the meeting? Are they friends of yours?”
The exchange set off a firestorm on social media as many black people balked at Trump’s suggestion of an assumed relationship between Ryan and CBC members because they are of the same race.
“I’m also really pleased he didn’t ask her to sweep and mop in the room where the press conference was being held,” Rep. Emanuel Cleaver of Missouri, a former CBC chairman, quipped during an MSNBC interview on Friday.
Adding to the ire: It was the second time in less than 30 days – and during Black History Month – that Trump said something that came across as indifferent toward black people. The president was ridiculed Feb. 1 for praising abolitionist Frederick Douglass, who died in 1895, as someone “who’s done an amazing job and is being recognized more and more.”
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After Thursday’s news conference, the CBC tweeted a copy of a letter, dated Jan. 19 and addressed to Trump, requesting a meeting. The caucus said although it got no response to that letter, Trump did reach out Thursday and that plans for a meeting are now in the works.
The White House declined to comment on Friday about Trump’s exchange with Ryan.
Trump used the moment to pander to his supporters, said Lehigh University professor James Peterson, and the irony is that the point of Ryan’s question – Trump’s plan for urban communities – got lost.
“His histrionics … obscured what was a very significant question in the first place,” Peterson said.
Trump’s comments came while the White House was in the midst of making overtures to black constituencies. The same day that Trump sparred with reporters, Vice-President Mike Pence joined with South Carolina Republican Sen. Tim Scott, one of three blacks in the Senate, for a White House “listening session” with black small business owners and community leaders. And the president is also expected to issue an executive order soon on support for historically black colleges and universities.
Although Trump has said his policies will benefit African-Americans, and predicted during his campaign that he would win the black vote, his support from black voters in November was about 8 per cent.
Just before his Jan. 20 inauguration, Trump tangled on Twitter with civil rights icon and Democratic Rep. John Lewis of Georgia. Civil rights groups, and several blacks in Congress, were particularly opposed to Trump’s nomination of Sen. Jeff Sessions, whom they view as holding racist views, as attorney general. Sessions was confirmed.
Within days of taking office, Trump threatened on Twitter to “send in the feds” to deal with gun violence in Chicago – a nod to his “law and order” stance to fixing the country’s “inner cities” that chafed some blacks during the campaign.
Thursday’s flap also put Ryan in the political spotlight for the second time in a week, as reports surfaced of her heated confrontation with Trump aide Omarosa Manigault in the White House press office.
In conflicting accounts, Ryan accused Manigault of physical and verbal intimidation, including a warning that the White House kept “dossiers” on black journalists – something the White House denied. Ryan also said her friendship with Manigault became estranged after Manigault accused her of an improper relationship with Democrat Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. Manigault denied the accusations.