President Trump led an hour-long discussion Thursday (May 21), with a panel of African Americans at a Michigan auto plant, placing emphasis on how the White House will supply economic aid for the community.
The panelists were primarily thankful to Trump for his visit to the area and his willingness to address the needs of the community. However, Detroit has a very long list of Black leadership with national influence that was not present. It was unclear if that’s because they were unavailable or uninvited.
It’s also unclear why Trump chose not to wear a mask, something which the White House Coronavirus Task Force has advised for everyone to mitigate the spread of the virus. Current data shows that Michigan has more than 53,000 COVID-19 cases and 5,100 deaths.
The group of about nine, sat spaced apart to observe social distancing measures, included part of the White House staff, supporters, business community leaders, a healthcare executive and a representative from the Michigan state legislature along with HUD Secretary Dr. Ben Carson, who is a Detroit native. Carson was there prior to the meeting to tour the Ford Rawsonville Components plant in Ypsilanti, Michigan. Located about 35 minutes east of Detroit, the plant has been tooled to make ventilators for coronavirus patients.
Trump announced that his administration has targeted aid specifically toward the African American community, which has been disproportionately affected by the pandemic, particularly in cities like Detroit.
Trump praised Scott Turner, executive director of the White House Opportunity and Revitalization Council, who worked with South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott on their efforts to encourage investment in poor areas. There are several dozen opportunity zones in Detroit alone.
“He had an idea and it was an idea that we took and we made it work,” Trump said, while thanking Turner.
He also praised longtime supporter Pastor Darrell Scott of Cleveland, also on the panel, for his role in passing criminal justice reform. However, it was clear on exactly what role Scott played.
Trump continued to tout what he called low unemployment figures among African Americans as the “lowest in history,” but again did not mention that such figures have only been kept since 1972 by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The President also noted the funding the White House has provided to HBCUs, which he has said he “saved” in the past. Leaders of the schools have had mixed reactions to Trump’s fiscal aid for their institutions.
In remarks to the President, one of the panelists, John James, a suburban Detroit businessman and Republican U.S. Senate candidate, said that the National Emergency Declaration should be expanded to protect against threats to the economy and said that Michigan is prepared to help turn the distressed economy around.
“We have the workforce here,” James said. “But we need data, we need training and we need jobs.”
Karen Whitsett, a Democratic state legislator agreed with James and called for more jobs training.
“One of the things I would like to point out is that training is a necessity,” she said. “If we had proper training, then we could change our renters into homeowners, we can change the dynamics of my community, which I have been in since 1969.”
Whitsett, who had previously claimed that hydroxychloroquine, the drug that Trump supports as a treatment for COVID-19, had “saved her life” noted that she would like to see an HBCU in Detroit. It’s an idea which Trump seemed to support except Detroit was already home to an HBCU, Lewis College of Business, which closed its doors in 2013.
Neither Trump nor the White House specified what would specifically be done after this meeting as far as assistance for the African American community. The House just days ago passed a new $3 trillion aid package and it awaits Senate approval, although the president has threatened a veto.