Opinion writer

Candidate Donald Trump loved to ask African Americans (in front of overwhelmingly white audiences), “What do you have to lose?” President Trump will find out the answer Wednesday. That’s when he will meet with the Congressional Black Caucus at the White House for the first time. He’s so not going to like their answer.

Not all 49 members of the CBC will be present. Just Cedric L. Richmond (D-La.), chair of the CBC, and five members of the executive committee. They include André Carson (D-Ind.), Karen Bass (D-Calif.), Gwen Moore (D-Wis.), Brenda Lawrence (D-Mich.) and Anthony G. Brown (D-Md.). And they will be walking in the door with proposals and legislation.

Each chapter of the 130-page book the CBC will present to the president will cover areas of major concern. Voting rights, education, criminal-justice reform and economic justice are among them. None of what will be proposed should take the president by surprise. The CBC has been trying to get Trump’s attention on all of this for months. The “New Deal for Black America” he issued in October was dismissed in a letter to him in January by the lawmakers as not serious in addressing issues important to African Americans. So, think of the Wednesday meeting with the president as a reset.


Rep. Cedric L. Richmond (D-La.), chair of the Congressional Black Caucus. (Patrick Semansky/Associated Press)

“The goal of the meeting is to go in and advocate for the almost 78 million people that the 49 members represent,” Richmond told me. “But more importantly, to convey to the president that there are real solutions that we offer.

“We will talk about how his budget is a disaster for African American communities, and poor communities around the country, whether you start with Meals on Wheels, to after-school programs,” Richmond added. “When you start cutting things like that, you’re really harming working-class families.”

The lack of diversity, demographically and in terms of experience, and its impact on policy decisions and direction really concerns Richmond and the CBC.

“I don’t think he’s getting from Attorney General Jeff Sessions a real view of what comprehensive criminal-justice reform means, what the goals are and how it helps the country,” Richmond told me. “I don’t think that Ben Carson at HUD understands the seriousness and importance that community development block grants and other programs have had to cities and states around this country.”


President Trump presents a pen after signing the HBCU executive order in the Oval Office on Feb. 28. (Yuri Gripas/Reuters)

Judging from my conversation with the CBC chair, I doubt we’ll see an Oval Office picture like the one that proved problematic (okay, embarrassing) for the presidents of historically black colleges and universities last month. Richmond and his colleagues have serious business with Trump and intend to make the most of the time they have with him.

“We will give him the benefit of us letting him know what the conscience of the Congress thinks of what he’s doing and ways to improve underserved communities throughout the country,” Richmond said.

We can only pray Trump actually listens. But forgive me for not holding my breath.

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