WASHINGTON — Could black lawmakers be the Democrats that are actually willing to work with President Trump? That’s what the White House is hoping.
But almost a dozen senior aides, members, and lobbyists close to the Congressional Black Caucus told BuzzFeed News that black Democrats aren’t very likely to play ball with Trump. Few CBC members have gotten over Trump’s campaigning, nor his birther crusade against President Obama.
That doesn’t mean the White House isn’t trying — or that there hasn’t been a warming on the part of Democrats, though.
The president, sources said, is difficult to dislike in person — he’s a man eager for allies and, according to a source familiar with the meeting, was an active listener. According to a source, some black lawmakers walked out of their recent White House meeting feeling they were enlightening — and informing — the president of the United States, which was unthinkable with Obama, who met with them two years into his administration.
There aren’t very many moderate Democrats left, and many Democrats fear the reaction of liberal voters if they work with Trump — even on shared goals. The CBC is one of the most powerful caucuses in Congress, perhaps the most reliable voting blocs in the Democratic conference. At 49 members, it’s larger than the Freedom Caucus, which has the ability to disrupt Republican legislation. That makes the caucus appealing to Republican president with somewhat less conservative impulses.
“That is the strategy,” a senior administration official told BuzzFeed News, of targeting the CBC.
The administration began communicating with black lawmakers during the transition via Omarosa Manigault, assistant to the president and director of communications for the Office of Public Liaison. On Jan. 19, the CBC sent Trump a letter, critiquing Trump’s “New Deal For Black America” as representative of the same economics “that didn’t work for our communities in the 1980s or in the 2000s.” A source said Chairman Cedric Richmond was invited to the White House’s African-American listening session in February (he did not attend).
The meeting last week rankled some support staff. “I think when someone shows you who they are, [you should] believe them,” said one senior Democratic Hill source who asked for anonymity to speak openly about the prospect of the CBC working with Trump on legislation. “Especially when that person doesn't actually care about his job, American institutions, or the well-being of the communities represented by the CBC.”
Jaime Harrison, the chair of the South Carolina Democratic Party who worked for Rep. Jim Clyburn and spent part of his career on the Hill whipping votes for House Democrats, critiqued Trump’s attempting to get his healthcare bill off the floor of the House. Now, the combination of the White House’s budget (flat funding for HBCUs, gutting social programs), Trump’s attack of Rep. John Lewis, and Trump’s history with Obama aren’t helping Trump’s cause with the CBC.
Trump has created his own challenges with his, bullying folks, and the overall manner in which he’s gone about handling the presidency — all of which could keep specific members from believing that he’d come to the table in good faith.
“He’s his own worst enemy,” said Harrison. “But if I had to give them all a suggestion on how you get something done, it's tell him not to tweet, include Democrats from the start, don’t make threats and let the legislative process work itself out. Or he runs the risk of having his legislation sour.”
The CBC did not respond to a request by BuzzFeed News for comment.
But Richmond acknowledged at the White House last week that the administration and the caucus had common goals.
According to a source familiar with the meeting, one of the things that Trump address was both a reduction in crime in inner cities and local job growth. The source — who asked for anonymity to discuss a private meeting — described some type of proposal that appropriated federal funding for a summer jobs program as “low-hanging fruit” for Trump.
“It fits squarely within his brand,” the source said. “He’s a job creator, he wants to put people to work. He wants people to take those jobs and for crime rate to go down and local economies to be rejuvenated. It's a win, I think, we have a shot at getting because it’s not sexy… there are no partisan stakeholders for summer jobs.”