WASHINGTON — Sen. Tim Scott, the only African-American Republican in the U.S. Senate, met with President Trump on Wednesday and said they discussed diversity and the president's response to the violence in Charlottesville.
“We discussed everything from legislative remedies for those living in poverty, to the incident in Charlottesville, to some of the other issues that are important — diversifying staff (at the White House),” the South Carolina senator told USA TODAY about the roughly 45-minute meeting.
Scott said “I think I was clear before we met and I was clear while we met” about how he felt Trump handled the violent rally in Charlottesville, Va., last month.
Scott had previously criticized the way Trump handled the white supremacist rally that led to the death of one counter-protester.
“It’s going to be very difficult for this president to lead if, in fact, his moral authority remains compromised,” Scott said on CBS’ Face the Nation in mid-August.
Trump initially said that “many sides” shared blame for the violence, but after he was criticized by Republicans as well as Democrats, he called out out white supremacists, neo-Nazis and the KKK by name.
But just one day later, Trump doubled down, saying that both sides were to blame.
"He was very receptive, he tried to explain what he intended," Scott said at an interview with a group of reporters in his office later Wednesday, when USA TODAY asked how the president took his criticism of the response.
"I tried to put it in a historical context as it relates to — while there were folks on both sides some antagonism on both sides — the reality of it was we have three or four centuries of history in this nation around white supremacy, the KKK, neo-Nazis and they're not negative, but they're raping and murdering people of colors for three centuries. So the historical context to me is incredibly important and why the response is so visceral on this topic," Scott said.
Later in the day, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was asked whether Scott expressed displeasure about the president's handling of Charlottesville. "Not at all," she responded.
"They talked about it pretty in-depth. But the focus was primarily on solutions moving forward," Sanders said. "That was what both people came to the meeting wanting to discuss is what we can do to bring people together, not talk about divisions within the country."
When Scott was asked about Sanders' comment in his office later Wednesday, he said: “I certainly started my comments on why I found the president’s comments unsettling and went over his comments."
"I think I started there because it was important for us sitting in the room with the president and the vice president to acknowledge what brought us all together, which was the comments in Charlottesville," he continued.
Scott said that the meeting came about because the White House called after his initial critique of Trump's response on Charlottesville. In his discussion with Sanders about the incident, Scott recommended a sit-down meeting.
Sanders described the meeting as "very productive."
"The president and the senator both wanted to have something to discuss potential solutions moving forward, to bring the country together. A focus on unity," she continued.
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