After Charlottesville, Black Republican Gives Trump a History Lesson on Racism

After Charlottesville, Black Republican Gives Trump a History Lesson on Racism

“My response was that, while that’s true, I mean I think if you look at it from a sterile perspective, there was an antagonist on the other side,” Mr. Scott said.

“However, the real picture has nothing to do with who is on the other side,” he said.

“It has to do with the affirmation of hate groups who over three centuries of this country’s history have made it their mission to create upheaval in minority communities as their reason for existence,” he continued. “I shared my thoughts of the last three centuries of challenges from white supremacists, white nationalists, KKK, Nazis. So there’s no way to find an equilibrium when you have three centuries of history versus the situation that is occurring today.”

Mr. Trump responded by repeatedly saying, “That makes sense,” and concluded the meeting by telling the senator, “Let’s keep talking.”

Mr. Scott’s version of the meeting was at odds with a description given to reporters by Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, in the White House briefing room. When asked if Mr. Scott had expressed his “displeasure” at the president’s response to Charlottesville, she said, “Not at all,” adding that Mr. Scott and Mr. Trump had discussed “what we can do to bring people together, not talk about divisions within the country.”

For weeks, White House officials have been discussing ways to ease the tensions stoked by the demonstrations and exacerbated, in the view of many Republicans, by the president’s off-the-cuff comments in the wake of the unrest. The efforts have coincided with Mr. Trump’s attempts to improve his relationships with Democratic leaders.

Mr. Scott has been outspoken on issues of racism but supportive of the president’s low-tax economic agenda. While critical of the president’s remarks, the 51-year-old former Charleston County councilman has often served as an even-tempered bridge between Republican leaders and African-Americans, who overwhelmingly view the party as hostile to their interests.

In an interview with CBS News in August, Mr. Scott encouraged Mr. Trump to meet with black leaders who have a “deep connection to the horror and pain” of slavery, Jim Crow and the racism exemplified by the Charlottesville riots.

On Wednesday, he told reporters he was “encouraged and surprised” by Mr. Trump, who spent most of the session listening, and not talking.

Several administration officials also attended the meeting, including Vice President Mike Pence, Ms. Sanders, and Marc Short, the White House director of legislative affairs.

Mary Elizabeth Taylor, the White House deputy director of legislative affairs for nominations, who is black, was also at the meeting, though the issue of nominations was not on the agenda.

The highest-ranking African-American in the mostly white West Wing, Omarosa Manigault Newman, was not present.

Mr. Scott was careful to add that there was “no time of tension” in the meeting. The president, he added, stayed focused on the subject of race most of the time.

Mr. Trump “was ever-present during the entire meeting,” he said.

In addition to discussing Charlottesville, Mr. Scott pressed the president to back legislation that would provide development funding for poor urban and rural communities. Mr. Trump said he would seriously consider it.

Mr. Scott told reporters he wanted “measurable progress in reasonable time” and had talked about some legislative ways to make that progress, but said that much work remained to be done.

“Anyone that expects an epiphany or a transformation to happen overnight because somebody walks in a room, I think, you don’t understand human nature,” Mr. Scott said of his discussion with Mr. Trump.

Mr. Scott, the first African-American senator to represent the South since Reconstruction, was unsparing in his criticism of the president after the Charlottesville violence, telling reporters that he would not “defend the indefensible.”

While Mr. Trump reacted angrily when his response was questioned by members of his own staff, most notably Gary D. Cohn, director of the National Economic Council, he quickly recognized the danger of having the highest-profile black Republican on Capitol Hill criticizing him and sought ways to begin a dialogue with Mr. Scott.

Other black leaders have been less willing to give the president the benefit of the doubt. And on Tuesday, Jemele Hill, an ESPN host, denounced the president to her 600,000 Twitter followers, describing Mr. Trump as “a white supremacist who has largely surrounded himself w/ other white supremacists.”

When asked about the comment on Wednesday, Ms. Sanders called the tweet “a fireable offense.”

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