Elijah Cummings tells President Trump his language has been hurtful to African Americans

Cummings to Trump: 'All African American communities are not places of depression.'

Rep. Elijah E. Cummings said he told President Donald Trump during a meeting Wednesday that his language describing African-American communities has been "hurtful" and "insulting," and suggested the administration look into allegations of voter suppression as well as election fraud.

The exchange came during what appears to have been an otherwise congenial Oval Office meeting in which Cummings, the top Democrat on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, presented the Republican president and Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price with a proposal to allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices.

Cummings, a senior member of the Congressional Black Caucus, said he spoke about African Americans in response to speeches in which Trump has referred to "carnage" in the "inner cities." The president has frequently described cities, including Baltimore, in dire terms.

"I said to him, 'Mr. President, most respectfully, when you're talking about the African-American community, I want you to realize that all African-American communities are not places of depression, where people are being harmed,'" the Baltimore lawmaker said. "I think it would be good for him to acknowledge that most African-American people are doing very, very well."

Cummings said that he believed Trump "got it," but "where he goes from there, I don't know."

In a summary released late Wednesday, the White House said the meeting was rooted in a desire to "work with Congressman Cummings in a bipartisan fashion to ensure prescription drug prices are more affordable for all Americans, especially those who need lifesaving prescription medications."

The summary did not mention Cummings' remarks about Trump's rhetoric, and a spokeswoman did not respond to a request for comment about them.

Trump has occasionally made overtures to African Americans. During a visit to the National Museum of African American History and Culture last month the president said he intended to "bring this country together" and "fight bigotry, intolerance and hatred in all of its very ugly forms."

The president met recently with leaders of historically black colleges and universities — including Morgan State University in Baltimore and Bowie State University — and offered support.

But he has also concerned some with his habit of framing discussions of African Americans around crime and drugs.

Baltimore, of course, has wrestled with both of those issues for decades. There were more than 300 homicides in the city in 2015 and 2016, and killings are up in the first two months of this year. Throughout his campaign, Trump promised to address urban crime, but has so far not offered specific proposals to do so.

Trump said in early February that Vice President Mike Pence would oversee a commission to investigate voter fraud, which Republicans have long alleged is a significant problem, and which Trump elevated by claiming — without evidence — that millions of people voted illegally for Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Cummings said he told Trump that any such investigation would not be complete without a study of voter suppression, which Democrats have argued is a more significant issue.

The hourlong meeting had been in the works for weeks, and was the subject of a testy exchange during a presidential news conference last month. Trump suggested to reporters at the time that Cummings was declining to schedule the meeting because it was not politically expedient for him to do so.

The Baltimore Democrat, who had requested the meeting in January in a cable television appearance, denied that characterization.

Cummings was joined at the White House on Wednesday by Rep. Peter Welch of Vermont, a Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and Dr. Redonda G. Miller, president of The Johns Hopkins Hospital.

Cummings, for weeks, has said there could be room for compromise between Democrats and the White House on drug prices. Trump, breaking with Republican orthodoxy, has suggested he favors allowing Medicare — which has significant leverage as a major purchaser of drugs — to negotiate lower prices.

Pharmaceutical companies have lobbied against that idea for years.

"Drug prices are going up higher and higher, and more and more people are saying that they cannot afford the price of their prescription drugs," Cummings said. He said Trump "seemed enthusiastic" about the proposal, which the Democrat said he intended to introduce in a few weeks.

"He was clearly aware of the problem and he made it clear to us that he wanted to do something about it," Cummings said. "He was very much aware of this prescription drug issue — I mean almost every aspect of it."

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said before the meeting that the issue "is an area where they agree," and there were "probably several more areas where they would agree" during a conversation.

Miller, of Hopkins, said she was glad the issue is getting attention, and described the meeting as productive.

"These prices are unsustainable for the majority of Americans as well as health care providers," she said in a statement. "There are a lot of contributing factors to this problem, which means there is no quick and easy fix."

Cummings has been a vocal critic of Trump on other issues. Hours before arriving for the meeting, he signed a letter with Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts seeking information about the president's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and whether the business interests he continues to hold represent a conflict in his position as a senior adviser at the White House.

Asked whether the meeting changed his mind about Trump, Cummings said he was "having some faith and believing."

"We'll see what happens," he said.

john.fritze@baltsun.com

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