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Sen. Tim Scott: Trump Has 'Obviously Reflected' On His Charlottesville Comments

Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., meets with President Trump in the Oval Office on Wednesday.
Shealah Craighead
White House
Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., meets with President Trump in the Oval Office on Wednesday.

Updated at 5:32 p.m. ET

Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., met with President Trump at the White House on Wednesday to discuss the president's response to last month's protests and racial violence in Charlottesville, Va., as well as specific issues facing communities of color.

Scott — the only black Republican currently serving in the Senate — said Trump's moral authority was compromised after the president equated neo-Nazis, KKK members and other white supremacists who organized the protests with those who demonstrated in opposition to the white supremacists' message. Three people — a pedestrian struck when a car was driven into a crowd of counterprotesters and two Virginia State Police officers killed in a helicopter crash — died in connection with the violence.

"I think there's blame on both sides," Trump told reporters during a news conference at Trump Tower last month. "You look at both sides — I think there's blame on both sides, and I have no doubt about it, and you don't have any doubt about it either."

"Racism is real. It is alive," Scott told VICE News in an interview that followed Trump's statements. He added, "What we want to see from our president is clarity and moral authority. And that moral authority is compromised. ... There's no question about that."

White House: Meeting "very productive"

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters during Wednesday's briefing that the president's meeting with Scott was "very productive." She characterized their conversation as focused "primarily on solutions moving forward."

"That was what both people came to the meeting wanting to discuss," she added, "is what we can do to bring people together, not talk about divisions within the country."

Regarding the president's initial response to the fatal violence in Charlottesville, Huckabee Sanders said the two men talked about it "pretty in depth."

She also said Trump intends to sign a joint resolution condemning white supremacy, recently passed by Congress in the wake of the violence in Charlottesville and the national conversation about race relations it opened up.

Speaking to CBS News after Wednesday's meeting, Scott said the president has "obviously reflected on what he has said [about Charlottesville], on his intentions and the perception of those comments." He added, "I'll let him discuss how he feels about it, but he was certainly very clear that the perception that he received on his comments was not exactly what he intended with those comments."

On Tuesday, Huckabee Sanders had told reporters the meeting was one that the senator "wanted to have with the president, and the president wanted to have the opportunity to meet one-on-one with the senator."

A source with knowledge of the planning said beforehand the meeting was born out of Scott's comments in an August interview with CBS News' Face the Nation, in which Scott said Trump needs personal connections to people of color.

"If the president wants to have a better understanding and appreciation for what he should do next, he needs to hear something from folks who have gone through this painful history," Scott told CBS News. "Without that personal connection to the painful past, it will be hard for him to regain that moral authority, from my perspective."

Anti-poverty efforts, HBCUs, criminal justice policy on the agenda

The source added that Scott intended to talk with Trump about anti-poverty initiatives and efforts to promote historically black colleges and universities — issues on which White House staffers and Scott's office have been working for months.

A separate source told NPR beforehand that Scott planned to talk with Trump about bipartisan efforts on criminal justice and programs to help offenders re-enter society. Such initiatives were championed by former President Barack Obama, but prospects during the Trump administration have appeared dim.

But Wednesday Huckabee Sanders told reporters HBCUs had not come up in the meeting after all. The two men did discuss, however, "adding additional personnel that can tap into the African-American community," according to Huckabee Sanders.

The meeting took place as Trump has struggled with his relationship with African-American lawmakers on Capitol Hill and the constituents they represent. In June, the Congressional Black Caucus declined a second meeting with Trump, after concluding that the concerns it had expressed during an initial meeting with the new president "fell on deaf ears." The administration has also struggled recently with plans for an annual conference regarding HBCUs put on by the Education Department. And at a Black History Month event held at the White House soon after taking office, Trump railed against the media. But a few weeks later, Trump toured the new Smithsonian museum dedicated to African-American history while accompanied by Scott, HUD Secretary Ben Carson and others. "This museum is a beautiful tribute to so many American heroes," Trump said at the time, according to the Washington Post. "It's amazing to see."

Wednesday's meeting wasn't Scott's first high-profile plunge into issues of race and justice.

Following last summer's widely publicized police shootings of black men in Louisiana, Minnesota and Dallas, Texas, Scott spoke on the Senate floorabout his own encounters with law enforcement.

"I have felt the anger, the frustration, the sadness and the humiliation that comes with feeling like you're being targeted for nothing more than being just yourself," Scott said at the time.

He added: "I simply ask you this: Recognize that just because you do not feel the pain, the anguish of another, does not mean it does not exist. To ignore their struggles, our struggles, does not make them disappear. It will simply leave you blind and the American family very vulnerable."

After his presidential one-on-one, Scott said it was those same themes that drove him to ask for a meeting with the president. "What I wanted to get out of the conversation was a focus on fairness and opportunity," the senator also told CBS News. "Most people of color, and frankly all Americans, want to be treated fairly in this nation, and they want access to opportunities."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Geoff Bennett is a White House reporter for NPR. He previously covered Capitol Hill and national politics for NY1 News in New York City and more than a dozen other Time Warner-owned cable news stations across the country. Prior to that role, he was an editor with NPR's Weekend Edition. Geoff regularly guest hosts C-SPAN's Washington Journal — a live, three-hour news and public affairs program. He began his journalism career at ABC News in New York after graduating from Morehouse College.