Over the course of the lengthy and bizarre news conference that President Trump held Thursday, few moments crystallized the unusual nature of his presidency as effectively as an exchange he had at the end with April Ryan of American Urban Radio Networks.
Ryan asked Trump if he would include the CBC in discussions about his agenda for addressing urban policy. The CBC, for those unaware, is the Congressional Black Caucus, a group of African American legislators that is often a leading voice on the Hill for issues dealing with the black community. Trump appeared briefly to be unaware of what the initials stood for, and so Ryan asked more pointedly.
Trump to @AprilDRyan on the Congressional Black Caucus : “Are they friends of yours?” pic.twitter.com/FMtl3qxU9w
— Colin Jones (@colinjones) February 16, 2017
“Am I going to include who?” he asked.
“Are you going to include the Congressional Black Caucus,” Ryan, who is black, asked, “and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus as well as …?”
“Well, I would,” Trump interrupted. “Tell you what, do you want to set up the meeting? Do you want to set up the meeting? Are they friends of yours? Set up a meeting.”
Ryan pointed out to the president that she is a journalist and that, while she does know members of the CBC, that’s not her role. “I’m sure some of them are watching right now,” she added.
Trump went on to say that he had been trying to set up a meeting with Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.), the ranking Democrat on the House Oversight Committee and a CBC member. He then claimed that Cummings had balked at following through, but the CBC tweeted its side of the story.
Hi, @realDonaldTrump. We’re the CBC. We sent you a letter on January 19, but you never wrote us back. Sad! Letter: https://t.co/58KiuHmITF
— The CBC (@OfficialCBC) February 16, 2017
This wasn’t the first dust-up between Ryan and the White House.
On Monday, Ryan accused Trump aide Omarosa Manigault of having physically intimidated her near the Oval Office and that Manigault claimed the administration was maintaining “dossiers” of information on members of the media. (White House press secretary Sean Spicer denied that this was the case in his daily briefing on Wednesday.)
During the campaign, Manigault accused Ryan of being on the payroll of Hillary Clinton, thanks to a misinterpretation of an email released by WikiLeaks. This history is probably why Trump also told Ryan that her question was “very professional, very good.”
However, the weirdness of the Trump-Ryan exchange on Thursday extends beyond the reporter’s relationship with the administration. Trump’s suggestion that a black reporter is somehow allied with or working on behalf of the Congressional Black Caucus is fraught for obvious reasons, but also came shortly after Trump insisted, without being prompted, that he was not racist.
“Racism: [I’m] the least racist person,” he said in response to one question. “In fact, we did very well, relative to other people, as a Republican.”
That’s misleading. He did better than John McCain in 2008 and Mitt Romney in 2012 — both of whom were running against the first black president in American history. Otherwise, he did worse with black voters than any Republican candidate since exit polling began tracking the numbers.
But the rest of the question that prompted him to note that he isn’t racist is worth mentioning.
Jake Turx of Ami Magazine, a publication with a Jewish readership, asked Trump about reports of bomb threats being called in to Jewish community centers.
.@POTUS says he’s the “least racist person” pic.twitter.com/6dTxsfCGOo
— POLITICO (@politico) February 16, 2017
“Number one, I am the least anti-Semitic person that you’ve ever seen in your entire life,” Trump responded, after calling the query “not a fair question.” “Number two,” he continued, “the least racist person.”
When Turx tried to clarify the response he sought — which explicitly wasn’t about Trump being anti-Semitic — Trump shot him down. “Quiet, quiet, quiet!” Trump told Turx, who was wearing a yarmulke. He summarized his lack of anti-Semitism by pointing to the embrace of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel on Wednesday. “You should take that,” Trump said to Turx, “instead of asking a very insulting question.”
Trump was asked about anti-Semitism on Wednesday, as well. He answered by talking about the electoral college.
It’s by no means the case that only black and Jewish reporters were subject to aggressive or unusual responses from Trump. It is the case that both Ryan and Turx earned responses that seemed to hinge on their cultural or racial identities: That Ryan might be friends with black legislators and that Turx should “take” the endorsement of Netanyahu.
At one point Trump also said that he hoped to unify the “very divided” country as president. Black and Jewish voters overwhelmingly preferred his opponent. It seems unlikely that his responses today will improve his relationships with those communities.
Update: The Anti-Defamation League released a statement.
Anti-Defamation League *not* pleased w/ POTUS Trump’s response (or lack thereof) to ?s re rise in anti-Semitic incidents. Via @ADL_National: pic.twitter.com/WRpQtiWwyg
— Celeste Katz (@CelesteKatzNYC) February 16, 2017