Cummings contradicts Trump over meeting on drug prices

"We called, called, called, called," Trump said of efforts to arrange meeting with Cummings.

President Donald Trump blamed Rep. Elijah E. Cummings on Thursday for failing to schedule a meeting about the cost of prescription drugs, suggesting the Baltimore Democrat didn't want to come to the White House because it was "bad politics."

Cummings, the top Democrat on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, disputed that characterization, saying the president had made it up. The congressman said he has been waiting to schedule a meeting until he has crafted a prescription drug bill for the president to consider.

Cummings said he still hopes the two will discuss the issue, on which there appears to be some common ground.

Trump's comments on Cummings came during a freewheeling, 80-minute press conference at the White House in which the president vowed to address damaging leaks that have come from within his administration and announced he would issue a new travel ban next week to replace the controversial executive order a federal appeals court blocked last week.

"I was all set to have that meeting. We called him and called him. Very nice guy," Trump said of Cummings.

The president said Cummings "was all excited and then he said, 'Oh, I can't move, it might be bad for me politically. I can't have that meeting.'"

Cummings balked at that assessment.

"I have no idea why President Trump would make up a story about me like he did today," he said in a statement.

"I was actually looking forward to meeting with the president about the skyrocketing price of prescription drugs," he said.

It is true that Cummings and Trump have failed to schedule a meeting that the congressman called for on national television in late January. Cummings appeared on two programs Trump is known to watch to demand the meeting. On Jan. 31, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer and an aide to Cummings said a meeting was still in the works.

Cummings said Thursday he was working to finish proposed legislation on the issue of prescription drugs before the meeting took place so he would have a measure to show the president as a starting point for their discussion. That is consistent with what he told The Baltimore Sun in an interview last week, before Trump's allegations.

Trump's remarks came in response to a question about whether he will seek input from the Congressional Black Caucus on his agenda to address crime, education and other issues in cities. Cummings is a member and former chairman of the black caucus, but their meeting was never expected to be about urban policy.

"Do you want to set up the meeting?" Trump asked the reporter, April Ryan of American Urban Radio Networks, who is African-American. "Are they friends of yours?"

Cummings said the "skyrocketing price of prescription drugs is an issue that affects every American family — not just people of color."

Trump said in late January he thought Medicare should be able to negotiate with pharmaceutical companies over the price of drugs, a move long supported by Democrats and opposed by Republicans that would likely reduce the cost of prescriptions for people with health insurance.

But that message has not been consistent. Trump's pick to lead the Woodlawn-based Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services would not commit to that policy during a hearing Thursday on Capitol Hill.

Trump met with pharmaceutical executives at the White House on Jan. 31, and said the U.S. Food and Drug Administration would speed drug approvals under his watch.. He also encouraged company leaders to reduce prices.

At the time, Spicer said that Cummings had been invited to that meeting but that he had a scheduling conflict on the Oversight Committee.

Cummings has been outspoken critic of the Trump administration, questioning the president's decision not to divest his business interests and protesting the temporary travel ban that was applied to seven predominately Muslim nations.

john.fritze@baltsun.com

twitter.com/jfritze

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