What do you think? Leave a respectful comment.

Why Trump’s outreach to black voters is raising ethical questions

President Trump is appealing to black voters ahead of November’s general election, touting his economic record and arguing Democrats haven’t delivered for African American communities. But some of his methods, and those of his supporters, have drawn scrutiny. Judy Woodruff talks to Yamiche Alcindor and Donald Sherman of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington for details and analysis.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Judy Woodruff:

    While Democrats make their case to more diverse primary electorates, as we have just been discussing, in Nevada and South Carolina, Yamiche Alcindor has been reporting on how President Trump is hoping to make gains with black voters ahead of the November 5 general election.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    A stepped-up pitch to black voters.

  • President Donald Trump:

    We're delivering for African-Americans.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Just in the past few weeks, President Trump has touted what he considers his biggest achievements for the black community.

    Here he is in his State of the Union address:

  • President Donald Trump:

    African-American poverty has declined to the lowest rate ever recorded.

    (CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    In a speech on opportunity zones in North Carolina:

  • President Donald Trump:

    From the day I took office, I have been working to build an unlimited future for African-American communities.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    And a Super Bowl ad featuring a black woman being released after the president commuted her prison sentence.

  • Woman:

    I want to thank President Donald John Trump.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Only 8 percent of black voters went for President Trump in 2016. But the president's 2020 campaign is hoping to up those numbers.

    It is ramping up efforts to peel away just a percentage or two of black voters from Democrats in key battleground states. And the president is confident his economic message is enough to bring black voters on board.

    He told a crowd in Charlotte, North Carolina, that Democrats haven't done enough for African-Americans.

  • President Donald Trump:

    They want your vote. And then the day after the election, they're gone. That's the Democrats. And I said, all these bad numbers, what the hell do you have to lose?

    Then I went offstage, and my people told me, I don't know. That's not nice. I said, no, it's true.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • President Donald Trump:

    It's true. What do they have to lose?

    (APPLAUSE)

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    But some of the president's outreach to black voters has come under scrutiny.

  • President Donald Trump:

    But, Janiyah, I have some good news for you.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    During his State of the Union address, President Trump awarded Philadelphia fourth-grader Janiyah Davis with a scholarship, appearing to tout a White House initiative to support school choice.

  • President Donald Trump:

    I am pleased to inform you that your long wait is over. I can proudly announce tonight that an Opportunity Scholarship has become available. It's going to you. And you will soon be heading to the school of your choice.

    (CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    But it turns out the money for the scholarship came personally from Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. Also, Davis already attends a highly-sought after charter school.

    Allies of the president also held a pro-Trump event where they gave away a total of $25,000 to a mostly black audience.

  • Man:

    Come on down to the price is right, and get your $300, April.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Attendees praised the president after they collected the cash. And, at the event, a White House official was awarded.

  • Woman:

    Four more years for President Trump. Yay!

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    The event was organized by a nonprofit called Urban Revitalization Coalition of America. A pro-Trump super PAC also gave the group a $238,000 grant.

    It is run by Ohio Pastor Darrell Scott. He also co-chairs an outreach program for President Trump's reelection campaign dubbed Black Voices for Trump.

    A Trump campaign official told the "NewsHour" — quote — "These events are not affiliated with or sanctioned by the president's campaign."

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And Yamiche is here with me now, along with Donald Sherman. He's the deputy director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. It's a nonpartisan legal watchdog group.

    Donald Sherman, welcome. Hello to you, Yamiche.

    So, let's talk about what we were just seeing, Donald.

    And let me start with you. Your organization has been looking to a few examples of the kind of thing the Trump Organization is doing. Are there ethical concerns with regard to all this?

  • Donald Sherman:

    Absolutely.

    First, it seems like the president suggested that the scholarship for Janiyah Davis was part of a government program. But then we found out that it was paid for by the personal charity of one of his employees.

    We're also interested to see whether the Department of Education officials were used in facilitating this donation, because then it makes it seem like they are actually grant officers for the secretary's personal charity.

    In addition, the Urban Revitalization Coalition event is particularly troubling, one, because this is supposed to be a nonpartisan 501(c)(3) charitable organization. And engaging in political activity, like voter registration drives aimed at upping African-American participation for the president, would violate IRS regulations for charitable oranges.

    Finally, it would be a problem for White House and other government officials to attend political events using federal funds. That would be a violation of the Hatch Act.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, Yamiche, what is the Trump campaign, what are they saying about all this? And, secondly, do they have a larger strategy, what is it, to reach black voters?

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Well, President Trump's outreach to black voters has long been something that has been criticized and controversial, going all the way back to 2016.

    This time around, the 2020 Trump campaign is saying that, we're not affiliated with any of this.

    I had a long conversation with Katrina Pierson. She's a senior adviser to the Trump campaign and also someone who's working on black voters for Trump, Black Voices for Trump. And she says, look, even if this was part of the campaign, this looks like it would be illegal.

    So that's an admission on the campaign's part that there shouldn't be cash giveaways at these events. But when you look at what the Trump campaign is actually doing — and there are two things going on. The campaign itself, officials, surrogates of the president, they're talking about the economy, they're talking about school choice, they're talking about bettering the lives of African-Americans and going around the country making that pitch.

    When you listen to the president himself, though, he's still going back to the 2016 question that got into him into a lot of controversial conversations, which is, what do you have to lose as African-American voters?

    He says his campaign thinks that that's not something that he should be saying. But the president said, look, I did better than both the last Republican nominees, talking about the late Senator John McCain and Senator Mitt Romney, with African-American voters. So I'm going to continue to do the things that I think will work.

    And, as we saw in 2016, it worked.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Donald Sherman, picking up on this, we understand your organization has been looking into something that Ivanka Trump, the president's daughter, did a couple of years ago in pushing for these so-called Opportunity Zones.

    Remind us what that was about, and what's the concern there?

  • Donald Sherman:

    Sure.

    So the reason why we filed a complaint with the Department of Justice related to Ivanka Trump's role in pushing Opportunity Zones is because her husband, Jared Kushner, has a $25 million stake in a company that is packaging investment vehicles through the Opportunity Zone program.

    And so what that means is that Ivanka Trump's work for the Opportunity Zone program is essentially a conflict of interest that — whereby this government program is funneling money into her pockets and her husband's pockets through this company that Jared Kushner still has an ownership interest in.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So that's an ongoing thing that you're looking at?

  • Donald Sherman:

    It's an ongoing thing we have looked at. We filed a complaint with the Department of Justice, but we're waiting on a response.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And one of the things, Yamiche, that we were just discussing, the president's — one member of the president's Cabinet, one of the few senior officials in his administration who is black — that's Ben Carson, the secretary, Housing and Urban Development — he introduced the president recently, made a point of saying the president is not a racist.

    To what extent is it a concern of the campaign that there is this perception out there that the president is discriminatory?

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Well, President Trump has done a number of things that have caused people to think of him as racist.

    That's, of course, critics of the president calling him racist. They say, one, that the president was a longtime birther, meaning that he was questioning whether or not President Obama was born in this country. That was seen as a largely racist conspiracy theory, given that President Obama was born in the United States.

    The second thing is the way that he's talked about immigrants. He said that some of them are rapists and criminals. He continues to use that language. The president think that that's talking from a place of strength and that he's being plain-talking and talking to a certain segment of the population that's worried about that.

    So there is this feeling inside the campaign that they need to defend the president's rhetoric. And that's why you see someone like Ben Carson saying he's not a racist.

    That being said, there are also critics of the president who say, the president isn't genuinely interested in upping his numbers with black voters. They say, critics of the president, that he's really trying to convince white voters, including white women who helped him win in 2016, that he's not racist.

    And by doing that, he is trying to speak to African-Americans and look like he's trying to appeal to a broad range of people, when, really, what he's trying to do is really comfort a lot of white the voters that have gone for him before.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Understanding whether there is some calculation in all of this.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Yes. Yes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Yamiche, Yamiche Alcindor, Donald Sherman, thank you both.

  • Donald Sherman:

    Thank you.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Thanks so much.

Listen to this Segment

The Latest