President Trump spoke out forcefully against anti-Semitism and visited the National Museum of African American History and Culture on Tuesday, seeking to signal his administration’s support for diversity after weeks of criticism.
A week after coming under fire for refusing to directly confront a rash of anti-Semitic acts across the country, Trump sought to dispel any narrative that he is looking the other way.
“Anti-Semitism is horrible and it’s going to stop and it has to stop,” Trump said in an interview with MSNBC at the newest museum on the National Mall in Washington.
Trump made the high-profile visit to the popular museum with daughter Ivanka Trump and former rival Ben Carson, a surgeon who viewed firsthand an exhibit on his own life. Trump has nominated Carson to serve as secretary of Housing and Urban Development.
Trump pledged “to do everything I can to continue that promise of freedom for African-Americans for every American.”
The president has come under fire in recent weeks for not speaking out enough against anti-Semitism.
He was criticized earlier this month when a White House statement on Holocaust Remembrance Day didn’t mention the killing of 6 million Jews.
Suggestions that the Trump White House is anti-Semitic have also been driven by the president’s hiring of former Breitbart News executive Stephen Bannon as a senior adviser.
The news site has been accused of
anti-Semitism, with critics pointing to a story about Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol that referred to him as a “renegade Jew” for not backing Trump.
On the other hand, Ivanka Trump converted to Judaism after marrying Jared Kushner, who is now considered Trump’s closest adviser in Washington. Kushner and Ivanka both take Saturdays off to observe Shabbat.
The insinuation that Trump was anti-Semitic made him “indignant,” said Trump supporter Jeffrey Lord.
“He wanted to circle back and make sure people knew where he stood on this,” Lord added.
At two press conferences last week, Trump failed to speak out against anti-Semitism, puzzling some in the media.
Asked about anti-Semitism in a joint press conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Trump brought up his Electoral College win in the presidential election and then name-checked Ivanka. Trump said he would “stop long-simmering racism” but stopped shy of discussing anti-Semitism.
A day later during another press conference, Trump declared that he was “the least anti-Semitic person that you’ve ever seen in your entire life” after telling a Jewish reporter to sit down because he was asking a negative question.
During the same news conference, Trump had an awkward confrontation with April Ryan, the White House reporter for American Urban Radio Networks.
After she asked if he would meet with members of the Congressional Black Caucus, Trump asked if they were “friends of yours” and invited her to set up a meeting.
“It clearly suggested that issues involving the African-American community were not high on his agenda,” said Clemmie Harris, an assistant visiting professor of African-American studies at Syracuse University. “Like many of his policies, they’re ad hoc and reactionary.”
Harris said African-Americans paid close attention also when Trump implied that Frederick Douglass, the renowned abolitionist, was still alive in comments earlier this month at a Black History Month event.
“Frederick Douglass is an example of somebody who’s done an amazing job and is getting recognized more and more, I notice,” the president said at the event.
Trump supporters say the remark was overblown.
Trump won a higher share of the black vote that the last two Republican presidential nominees, who both ran against Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaTop nuclear policy appointee removed from Pentagon post: report Prosecutors face legal challenges over obstruction charge in Capitol riot cases Biden makes early gains eroding Trump's environmental legacy MORE.
He still performed dismally, and black lawmakers in Congress were among the first to boycott his inauguration.
The president has also been viewed by some as anti-immigrant, a narrative that likely worsened on Tuesday after the administration announced a proposal to consider almost all undocumented immigrants as subject to deportation.
He has appeared stung at times by suggestions that he is insensitive to minority communities.
In the press conference last week, he talked about the tone in the media being full of “hatred.” But he countered it by saying, “I’m really not a bad person, by the way.”
When he was running for president, Trump sought to portray himself as not just the “law and order” candidate. Occasionally, he would also call himself “the candidate of compassion.”
A caveat to his hard-line immigration policies has been for “Dreamers” — young people who came to the U.S. illegally as children.
At the press conference last week, Trump acknowledged that the topic is a “very, very difficult” one for him and that many are “some absolutely incredible kids.”
Trump supporters say the president is making inroads with different communities.
They point to Trump’s visit to the museum on Tuesday and his upcoming meeting with members of the Congressional Black Caucus as proof.
“It’s part of an ongoing strategy and effort to reach out,” Lord said. “I think you’re going to see more of it.”
In an interview with The Hill on Tuesday, Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.) said he was pleased to see Trump reach out to the African-American community by visiting the new museum. At the same time, Cleaver added, “reaching out without policy changes is motion without movement.”
“I don’t even think going to a church is reaching out,” Cleaver added. “Reaching out is tough, and I’m not sure the president wants to do that.”
Cleaver took it a step further: “To quote one of the president’s favorite people, Frederick Douglass, ‘If there’s no struggle, there’s no progress.’ ”
Likewise, members of the Jewish community accused Trump of merely going on damage control, and even that was “too little, too late,” said Steve Goldstein, the executive director of the Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect.
Goldstein wrote in a Facebook post that Trump’s statement on Tuesday is “a pathetic asterisk of condescension after weeks in which he and his staff have committed grotesque acts and omissions reflecting anti-Semitism, yet day after day have refused to apologize and correct the record.”