WASHINGTON, D.C. – Rep. Anthony Brown (D-4) took his message right to the top on Wednesday, travelling to the White House as part of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) executive committee for a meeting with President Donald Trump.
Brown said the CBC - of which he serves as parliamentarian - discussed issues such as infrastructure, criminal justice, voting rights and education at the hour-long meeting held March 22.
“We had an opportunity to convey a number of things that we wanted to do, and primarily to help him answer the question that he had posed on the campaign trail to the African-American community, when he asked ‘what do you have to lose?’” Brown said. “We pointed out that there were a lot of things to lose, and as we looked at his skinny budget that came out two weeks ago, the cuts and the reductions will have major impacts on the African-American community.”
Brown said restoring federal Pell Grants that are proposed for cuts in the budget blueprint the Trump Administration released last week was one of the solutions the CBC offered. It also spoke to the importance of programs like Outward Bound to help students get into and succeed in college, as well as supporting Historically Black Colleges and Universities.
The CBC also believes Trump’s pledge to increase investments in infrastructure projects can be used to benefit African-Americans, as well as women- and other minority-owned businesses, Brown said.
“We know that the president has a commitment to, he says $1 trillion of infrastructure. We wanted to make sure that we can use the infrastructure investments not only to deliver that infrastructure but to empower the African-American community, mainly with jobs. We think Community Benefit Agreements serve that purpose,” he said.
Although health care reform is a hot topic right now, Brown said the caucus only briefly discussed it, because they wanted to devote more time to other issues that “up to this point, have not been on the table.”
Brown also used the opportunity to hand-deliver a letter about the FBI headquarters relocation project to Trump. The letter, signed by Brown and fellow Congressman Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-5) with Sens. Chris Van Hollen and Ben Cardin (both D-Md.), represented a “full Prince George’s County press” on behalf of the FBI project, which has faced several delays.
“We are heartened that your proposed FY2018 budget increases GSA’s discretionary spending authority to $500 million – a $200 million increase from GSA’s current budget authority and significantly higher than the previous administration’s proposal. But at this critical juncture as the Maryland delegation works to secure the needed appropriations, your leadership is needed to shepherd this project to a site selection and groundbreaking,” the letter says.
It also appeals to Trump's stated commitment to efficiency in government by pointing out the inefficiencies caused by the current situation, where FBI employees are spread over 14 sites, as well as the president’s desire for strong counterterrorism and cybercrime stances by arguing the current FBI headquarters, the Hoover building, is old and causes personnel to be “routinely hampered by a lack of state-of-the-art resources.”
Brown said he didn’t want to miss the opportunity to make sure the president was personally aware of the FBI headquarters situation and advocate for his constituents.
“I’ve served in the executive branch and I know that many things don’t reach the desk of the president, so I wanted to make sure I put it on his radar,” he said.
Prior to the meeting, Sean Spicer, Trump’s press secretary, said it represented an opportunity to hear from more stakeholders as he formulates his policies.
“The president has brought in and will continue to hear from representatives of all interests as he continues to note that he is the president of all Americans. Diversity makes our nation strong, and it also means that we don't necessarily agree on every policy item but that we continue to have a dialogue toward productive policies that help America move forward,” Spicer said at his daily briefing.
Brown agreed that the dialogue is the key to effecting policy.
“Dialogue is important. You need to be in conversation with decisionmakers,” Brown said. “We want to have a relationship where we can find common ground, where we can be frank and candid with one another where we disagree. And I think that today was a good step in that direction.”