By Darlene Aderoju
WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump and ranking Democratic Congressman Elijah Cummings finally met Wednesday, and in what apparently was an otherwise cordial conference about lowering prescription drug prices, the Maryland representative said he admonished Trump for his “hurtful,” and “insulting” statements about African-American communities.
Cummings said he also used the meeting to tell Trump while he found no evidence of the president’s claim of massive voter fraud, there was certainly a need to investigate and halt voter suppression of African Americans.
The two had been at odds after Trump accused Cummings of canceling a scheduled meeting because it would be “bad politics” to be seen with the president. Cummings responded there never was a meeting and said in a statement, “I have no idea why President Trump would make up a story about me like he did today.”
In a less heated environment, Cummings, the ranking Democrat on the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Rep. Peter Welch (D-VT) and Johns Hopkins Hospital President Dr. Redonda Miller met with Trump to ask for his support of a bill that would reverse current legislation and allow the federal government to negotiate prescription drugs prices.
The Congressional Budget Office, a nonpartisan agency that advises Congress on the impact and cost of legislation, has said that if enacted, the bill could save the government $145 billion over 10 years in prescription drug purchases for Medicare.
Cummings said, however, he also used his visit to address issues he feels are important to African Americans.
“I said when you talk about the African American community, you make it sound like it’s the most awful place to be,” Cummings told reporters after the meeting. “I reminded him that I’ve lived in the inner city of Baltimore for 35 years.”
In a campaign rally in September, Trump painted a bleak, inaccurate picture of African-American communities.
Our African-American communities are absolutely in the worst shape that they’ve ever been in before, ever, ever, ever,” he said. “You take a look at the inner cities. You get no education, you get no jobs, you get shot walking down the street. They’re worse, I mean honestly, places like Afghanistan are safer than some of our inner cities.”
Cummings said he told the president the vast majority of African Americans are doing well and live in nice neighborhoods, “but when he paints them as negative places to be, it sends the wrong message.”
Cumming said the president responded by saying he will do a better job with the way he describes African Americans.
Cummings said he also addressed the president’s allegations of massive voter fraud in the November election, telling Trump the president cannot investigate voter fraud without tackling the real issue of voter suppression, which has penetrated many communities unjustly.
“I don’t believe there’s voter fraud, and if there is, it’s miniscule,” he said, “but, we do know there’s proof that people have been denied their right to vote. You can’t have a fair evaluation about voting in the U.S. if you don’t look into voting suppression.”
Cummings said he also used the meeting to request additional funds for historically black colleges and universities.
More than 60 black college presidents met with Vice President Mike Pence and education officials recently to discuss their concerns before a photo opportunity with Trump.
The meeting has been highly criticized by some as providing a photograph to bolster Trump’s reputation without any substantive action expected. It also sparked protests at Howard University and unease at other historically black colleges and universities.
“I told him I am grateful to be an HBCU graduate,” said Cummings, who attended Howard University and whose wife and two daughters are graduates of HBCUs.
“I thanked him for meeting with HBCU leaders, but I said I’m speaking for them when I say they need funds, because [they] have a lot of students trying to get an education.”
Cummings, Welch and Miller said they though their conversations with the president on a bill to reduce the price of what the government pays for drugs went well. Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price was also in the Oval Office for the meeting.
“The president understood the issue very well.” Cummings said. “He was able to provide us with his take on it and he felt we should address the issue head on.”
Trump was enthusiastic about the proposal and has publicly supported allowing Medicare to negotiate for lower drug prices in the past, Cummings said.
“We’re not expecting support from Republicans based on history,” Cummings said, “but President Trump said he would do everything he can to get the support from his party.
“He said, ‘Cummings, [I’ll do] whatever I have to do to help encourage the members of my party to help out,’” Cummings said. “He said, ‘I’m going to work with you’ — those were his exact words — ‘to make this happen’”
Miller, whose hospital is one of the top five in the nation, said she was also pleased with the meeting, but added skyrocketing drug prices are a tremendous burden on patients and are stifling hospitals’ ability to provide affordable health care.
“We are seeing astronomical increases in some drug prices, sometimes more than 1,000 percent,” Miller said. “These prices are unsustainable for the majority of Americans as well as health care providers”