WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump praised the contributions of African-Americans Wednesday during a meeting with black lawmakers, who planned to confront him on his Justice Department priorities and cuts in education funding — issues they said would hurt their constituents.
Talking to the media before the meeting in the Cabinet Room, Trump said he pledged during his campaign to "improve conditions for African-American citizens."
"This means more to me than anybody should understand," said Trump, who was meeting with members of the Congressional Black Caucus. "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."
He also praised the contributions of black Americans, saying "they lifted up the conscience of our nation during the march toward civil rights, enriched the soul of America in their faith and courage, and they've advanced our country in the fields of science, arts and medicine."
But black lawmakers said before the meeting that they planned to tell the president that his budget priorities and his legislative initiatives would hurt African-Americans more than they would help.
"His budget is contrary to African-American interests in a number of ways, and it's our role as policymakers to call him out on it," said Congressional Black Caucus chairman Cedric Richmond, D-La., in an interview with the Associated Press on Tuesday.
The black lawmakers went into the meetings well aware of the unpopularity of Trump with their black constituents. Trump received only 8 percent of the African-American vote in last November's election.
For example, presidents of historically black colleges and universities were mocked by some for posing for a photo with Trump in the White House, and then saw no increase in money for their schools in Trump's budget. The administration has proposed cuts in financial assistance that students depend on.
In fact, Richmond said he's been urged by his constituents, black voters and even caucus members to cancel the meeting and instead focus only on resisting the president's agenda and reducing the chances for his re-election, similar to what he said tea party Republicans did to former President Barack Obama.
He said "if our only action is to resist," African-Americans around the country are going to suffer disproportionately.
"We have a responsibility as African-American leaders to always put them first," Richmond said.
The Congressional Black Caucus is made up of 49 black members of Congress, mostly Democrats, but Rep. Mia Love, R-Utah, is also a member.