President Donald Trump is looking to redeem himself with the African-American community following that embarrassing Frederick Douglass flub during a Black History Month “listening session” at the White House last week.
Sources who sat in on the Black History Month meeting on Wednesday, Feb. 1, said the White House is working on an executive order regarding the nation’s historically Black colleges and universities, Buzzfeed News reported. The move is seemingly an effort by President Trump to outdo ex-President Barack Obama, who critics have argued did not do enough to help HBCUs during his time in office.
The subject of Wednesday’s meeting turned to HBCUs after Paris Dennard, a GOP consultant and political commentator who works on strategic communications for the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, brought up the future of the cash-strapped institutions. Dennard told Buzzfeed News that he informed Trump that he could go down as one of the greatest presidents in U.S. history if he lent his support to HBCUs, emphasizing how the schools had fared under the Obama administration and were badly in need of his help.
“[Trump] was shocked and upset to learn what happened under the previous administration,” Dennard said.
In 2015, leaders of several historically Black colleges and universities expressed frustration at Obama for enacting policies they felt worked against the better interests of their schools. HBCU supporters pointed to a restrictive federal loan policy that they argued has pushed out families interested in sending their children to historically Black colleges, Atlanta Black Star reported. University leaders also denounced the former president’s college ratings system, which they feared would unfairly keep their institutions from receiving much-needed federal aid.
“The president thinks that HBCUs — and there may, in fact, be some — are failing our students,” Rep. Marcia L. Fudge (D-Ohio) told The Washington Post following a board meeting in February 2015. “But there needs to be an open dialogue about higher education and why HBCUs have historically gotten short shrift when it comes to resources and recognition.”
Dennard and two other sources who sat in on Wednesday’s listening session said hearing the plight of HBCUs quickly piqued the president’s interest. Trump reportedly asked what “the Harvard” of HBCU’s was, to which at least three people in the room said Howard University, according to Buzzfeed News. He then inquired about how the university was doing financially, with enrollment, and how it fared under President Obama, to which he got poor news.
Meeting attendees informed the president that while Howard was receiving federal funds, it was, like other HBCUs across the country, still struggling financially. Sources familiar with the matter said Trump then asked what he could do to rectify the situation, after which Omarosa Manigault, the director of communications for the Office of Public Liaison, announced that she was working on getting an executive order supporting HBCUs across the president’s desk, Buzzfeed News reported.
There are currently no details on what exactly the order will do or how it will help HBCUs. Manigault offered no further comment on the proposed order but said she could “reinforce the president’s commitment to support historically black colleges and universities, as well as school choice, as he stated throughout the campaign.”
Following Wednesday’s meeting, there was speculation that the White House Initiative on HBCUs, which was housed under the U.S. Department of Education under Obama, could be moved to be run out of the White House, another source told the news site.
TheGrio reported that a group of GOP leaders plan to meet with HBCU leaders in the next few weeks. The discussion will reportedly take place Feb. 28, the same day as Trump’s first State of the Union Address.