If Omarosa Manigault, “Celebrity Apprentice” turned presidential assistant and director of communications in the White House Office of Public Liaison, is to be believed, individual members of the Congressional Black Caucus are trying to arrange their own private meet-ups with President Donald J. Trump, even though CBC Chair Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-La.) says the 49-member group has turned down her White House invitation.
That makes sense, because unless it’s a lo-o-ng meeting, the only benefit of a group session that size would be little more than a photo op which would invariably make the president look good and leave the CBC members looking like props. Sort of like the 100 or so presidents of historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) did in February, when they interrupted the potentially productive listening sessions they were having with individual Cabinet members for an unscheduled, cattle call-like trek to the Oval Office for a group shot with His Nibs.
A substantive meeting with 50 principals would require an all-day session, like the president’s trip to the European summit. And if the walking-protocol-disaster’s conduct at that meeting is any example of what they might be in store for, where Trump shoved a fellow president out of his way so he could get to the front of the pack, then his treatment of a bunch of black legislators, whom he truthfully loathes, would be a disaster for them.
In a slightly analogous situation, I once arranged for my boss, Mr. L.H. Stanton, publisher of National Scene magazine, to attend a similar session for dozens of small, out-of-town publishers to meet with President Ronald Reagan when I was the magazine’s editor and White House correspondent. No one knows what was talked about. The only good to come out of that session was a signed handshake photo for posterity.
Members of Congress are not small-town publishers, thrilled at getting a White House souvenir regardless of the politics of the current occupant. No. CBC members have some issues on their minds, which — despite the toxic environment — they want to discuss.
“The CBC and the millions of people we represent, have a lot to lose under your administration,” Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-La.), the CBC chairman wrote in a letter to Manigault.
“I fail to see how a social gathering would benefit the policies we advocate for,” Richmond’s letter said. “The CBC will always be willing to engage in discussion and debate about policies and programs that will make America a more perfect union for all.
“Based on actions taken by you and your administration since [the initial March 22] meeting, it appears that our concerns and your stated receptiveness to them, fell on deaf ears,” the letter continued.
In particular, the CBC complained about the proposed Trump budget which strips away money for financial assistance for needy, low-income college students; the elimination of the Obama administration’s diversity program by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos; the elimination of the Low Income Energy Assistance Program which helps seniors and others on fixed incomes heat their homes; as well as efforts by Attorney General Jeff Sessions to accelerate drug prosecutions, while weakening federal civil rights enforcement.
In addition, Richmond complained that the Republican proposals to repeal the Affordable Care Act would “strip millions of black people of their health care.”
“We have voiced all of these concerns in various forms, but have heard nothing from you or your Cabinet officials,” Richmond wrote, citing eight letters and documents the CBC has sent to Trump administration officials.
Now what does the loosely united band of egos that makes up the CBC do? They are an unpopular minority in the Democratic Party, which is a powerless wing in the House, which operates strictly according to the majority’s rules.
Their boycott is, “a good idea, but they need a strategy behind it,” said Dr. Clarence Lusane, chairman of the Department of Political Science at Howard University. “Just not meeting with him is not going to do it.”
The CBC started losing its power when they started playing ball with the administration of Pres. Bill Clinton, Lusane said. Then they began to land positions in the party leadership, further compromising their militancy.
“So, it’s difficult to see them coming up with a unified progressive strategy, other than kind of ‘resist Trump,’” Lusane said. “They don’t have a mobilization strategy. There’s nothing that they’re moving people around, or coming to the black community and saying, ‘these are our top five issues. We need to mobilize around this.”
But the CBC, like the Democratic Party, and like the neoliberal left, are drifting rudderless since Trump’s victory and the start of his lawless, ham-fisted approach to governance.
“Until I see, not only the CBC, but the [Democratic] Party and the white left as a whole make [a manifesto to lead the country] front and center, then, it’s not all that clear that Trump will be defeated,” Lusane said. “So, I haven’t seen any of that. And I think until they put some strategy together in that context, and it’s linked up with the movements that are going on in the black community, around women, around Black Lives Matter, around the environment, then, it’s not in a national context, a collective context, then, I just think they’re very limited in what they’re going to be able to do.”