The session was attended by Ben Carson, Trump’s nominee to head the Department of Housing and Urban Development, his sole black Cabinet pick.
“Well, this is Black History Month, so this is our little breakfast, our little get-together,” Trump said, seated beside Carson and Omarosa Manigault, a former “Apprentice” contestant and now an assistant to the President.
Prominent African-American leaders from groups like the NAACP or the National Urban League weren’t in attendance. But Trump nonetheless hailed, in sometimes awkward terms, the black community.
“Frederick Douglass is an example of somebody who’s done an amazing job and is being recognized more and more, I noticed,” Trump said. “Harriett Tubman, Rosa Parks and millions more black Americans that made America what it is today. Big impact. I’m proud to honor this heritage and will be honoring it more and more.”
Trump cited as a sign of progress the recent opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington as well as the figures of history featured inside the structure.
One Democrat not in attendance, Congressional Black Caucus Chairman Cedric Richmond, D-Louisiana, downplayed the session as a political stunt.
“It’s one thing to pose for a photo op and it’s another to offer real solutions,” he said. “The CBC has offered the President a number of solutions to address real problems. If he is serious about addressing issues in the African-American community and honoring Black History Month, he will start working with us to implement them.”
But in the meeting, Trump’s supporters praised the President for his moves on combating inner-city violence.
Darrell Scott, a pastor who campaigned for Trump, told the President Wednesday that because of his relationship with the administration and Omarosa, he’s now set up a meeting with “top gang thugs” in Chicago to discuss gun violence and crime in the Windy City.
“I was recently contacted by some of the top gang thugs in Chicago for a sit-down. They reached out to me because they associated me with you. They respect you,” Scott said as he introduced himself during a roundtable meeting that the President hosted at the White House for African-American leaders.
Trump agreed that this was a good step forward, nodding and adding that “Chicago is totally out of control.”
Scott, who did not name the gangs, described them as “straight street guys” but ones who are committed to “lowering the body count,” referencing the high murder rate in the city.
The President has focused several tweets and public statements about violence in Chicago, tweeting a week ago that if the “carnage” in Chicago didn’t end, he would “send in the feds.”
Trump reiterated at Wednesday’s meeting that he’s willing to get involved to stop the violence.
“What’s happening in Chicago should not be happening in this country,” he said.