Trump’s move after winning a criminal justice award? Trashing cities and a black senator

Sen. Kamala Harris
Kamala Harris initially canceled plans to appear at a criminal justice conference at a historically black college, after President Trump was given an award there and most students were excluded from the event.
(Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press)

President Trump attacked House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Saturday and sparred with Sen. Kamala Harris, engaging in a feisty online back-and-forth over their separate efforts to connect with African American voters.

Trump went after Harris, the California Democrat who is seeking a lift for her presidential campaign, in a tweet responding to her announcement that she was canceling her planned appearance at a criminal justice reform convention at historically black Benedict College in Columbia, S.C., because participants had honored Trump on Friday.

“Badly failing presidential candidate @KamalaHarris will not go to a very wonderful largely African American event today because yesterday I received a major award, at the same event, for being able to produce & sign into law major Criminal Justice Reform legislation, which will..” he wrote, linking to a second tweet:


“....greatly help the African American community (and all other communities), and which was unable to get done in past administrations despite a tremendous desire for it,” he continued. “This and best unemployment numbers EVER is more than Kamala will EVER be able to do for African Americans!”

A third tweet in the thread consisted of only an ellipsis of four periods.

Trump, who is spending the weekend at the Camp David presidential retreat in Maryland, made the First Step Act that he signed into law in December 2018 a focus of his remarks Friday, looking to increase his support among black voters, most of whom favor Democrats, at an event organized to draw a number of Democratic presidential hopefuls.

Harris announced her decision Friday night to forgo her scheduled appearance and instead hold a roundtable with local students and the broader Columbia community. She is the only presidential candidate to have graduated from a historically black college or university, or HBCU.

“When it became clear Donald Trump would receive an award after decades of celebrating mass incarceration, pushing the death penalty for innocent Black Americans, rolling back police accountability measures and racist behavior that puts people’s lives at risk, and then learned all but 10 Benedict students are excluded from participating, I cannot in good faith be complicit in papering over his record,” she said.

Only seven Benedict College students attended Trump’s speech, delivered to a crowd of 300 people, half of whom were supportive politicians, White House aides and guests.


But Harris reversed herself Saturday afternoon and announced she would attend the forum after the group that gave Trump the award, the 20/20 Bipartisan Justice Center, was removed as a sponsor.

South Carolina, with its large black voting population and election date early in the primary lineup, is a crucial state for many of the candidates competing for the Democratic nomination. Among those who attended the forum were former Vice President Joe Biden, who dominates in South Carolina polls even as he is no longer the clear favorite in other key primary states.

The state is a potential firewall for Biden, reflecting his popularity with African American voters. But many of his rivals are confident that they have a message that will be more resonant with African Americans as voters get to know the candidates better.

Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, the black former mayor of Newark who has made criminal justice reform a cornerstone of his campaign, has put particular emphasis on South Carolina, as has Harris.

At the event Saturday, Booker pilloried the Bipartisan Justice Center for bestowing Trump with an honor and a platform that Booker said were undeserved and masked Trump’s record of promoting racist policies.

“This president has been fueling racism,” Booker said. “One of the challenges we have with the criminal justice system in America is that it is a criminal justice system that is unjust and profoundly racist.”

Booker suggested other Democratic candidates are talking about criminal justice reform but are not moving on it with the urgency he is.

Other candidates, like Sens. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, focused their remarks on economic injustice and their plans to rectify it. Both of the progressive senators need to make significantly more inroads with black voters if they are to overtake Biden.

Another upper-tier candidate struggling to resonate with black audiences is South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who also attended the forum. Buttigieg addressed the tension in his own city between the police force and African American residents, which has hurt his candidacy.

He talked about building police trust and accountability so black residents aren’t left feeling “over-policed” or viewing the police as an “occupying force.” Buttigieg also took aim at overzealous prosecutors, calling for compensation for the wrongly convicted and an end to the backlog of DNA testing that could lead to exonerations.

Only seven Benedict College students attended Trump’s speech Friday after school officials directed students to stay in their dorm rooms while the president was on campus.

A day after Trump paid tribute to Democratic Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, who was eulogized by two former presidents during a Baltimore funeral service that drew lawmakers from both parties but not Trump, he attacked Pelosi on Saturday in tweets reminiscent of his July outburst about Cummings’ congressional district that was full of racial undertones.

“I can’t believe that Nancy Pelosi’s District in San Francisco is in such horrible shape that the City itself is in violation of many sanitary & environmental orders, causing it to owe the Federal Government billions of dollars - and all she works on is Impeachment.....” Trump tweeted.

He continued: “...We should all work together to clean up these hazardous waste and homeless sites before the whole city rots away. Very bad and dangerous conditions, also severely impacting the Pacific Ocean and water supply. Pelosi must work on this mess and turn her District around!”

Trump, who has made a habit of attacking American cities, depicting them as dirty and unsafe, has shown scant interest in environmental issues save for instances when he has criticized leaders in California over water management and wildfire mitigation efforts.

Frustrated with Pelosi’s handling of the House impeachment inquiry that began a month ago, Trump is being encouraged by Republicans to emphasize a desire to refocus on pressing policy issues when attacking the investigation.

His tweets about Pelosi came moments after a tweet venting about the inquiry itself: “The Ukraine investigation is just as Corrupt and Fake as all of the other garbage that went on before it,” he wrote.