WASHINGTON – Members of the Congressional Black Caucus expressed bafflement and dismay Thursday after President Donald Trump asked a black reporter to set up a meeting with them.
Rep. Jim Clyburn of South Carolina said there is "an element of disrespect" in Trump's comment to journalist April Ryan, asking her whether she was friends with CBC members and could convene a get-together.
"He's not going to ask any other reporter to do that for any other group, so why did he do that to her? I think that was pretty instructive to me," said Clyburn, a veteran lawmaker and member of the House Democratic leadership.
When asked whether Trump was implying that all black people know each other, Clyburn said, "I don't know what his implications were but that's my interpretation."
The chairman of the CBC, Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-La., issued a statement late Thursday saying the White House reached out to schedule a meeting with the 49-member organization and discussions were underway about a possible date.
Ryan is a longtime White House reporter and Washington bureau chief for American Urban Radio Networks. She asked Trump at his East Room press conference on Thursday whether he planned to include the CBC "in your conversations with your urban agenda, your inner-city agenda."
The president responded by asking Ryan whether the CBC are "friends of yours" and remarking, "I tell you what, do you want to set up the meeting?"
Ryan herself responded over Twitter: "I am a journalist not a convener! But thank you for answering my questions."
And the CBC noted over Twitter that the group sent Trump a letter in January outlining areas where they could work together, "but you never wrote us back. Sad!" The organization later issued a statement saying they were in talks with the White House about a possible meeting.
Richmond's statement said it was remarkable that Trump had not responded to their letter.
"President Trump has been in office for almost a month and the Congressional Black Caucus - which at a historic 49 members is almost a fourth of the House Democratic Caucus and represents millions of African-Americans - did not hear from the White House until we introduced ourselves on Twitter after the White House press conference today."
Rep. Joyce Beatty of Ohio said: "We have a rich history, we have some almost 50 members of the Congressional Black Caucus. We're not new. What a president should say is, yes, it's already on my agenda to talk to them."
Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., called Trump's remarks another "abuse of protocol."
"Donald Trump knows how to call Cedric Richmond, our chair, and that is what he should do. And then we'll (the CBC) sit together and see if it's in our interest" to meet with Trump, Ellison said.
Trump specifically mentioned a meeting with Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., and said the lawmaker canceled because it would be bad for him politically. Cummings, in response, said, "I have no idea why President Trump would make up a story about me like he did today."