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Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C. is set to meet with President Donald Trump at the White House Wednesday to discuss the president's response to last month's protests and racial violence in Charlottesville, Va., as well as specific issues facing communities of color.
Scott — the only black Republican currently serving in the Senate — said Trump's moral authority was compromised after the president equated neo-Nazis, KKK members and other white supremacists who organized the protests with those who demonstrated in opposition to the white supremacists' message. Three people — a pedestrian struck when a car was driven into a crowd of counterprotesters and two Virginia State Police officers killed in a helicopter crash — died in connection with the violence.
"I think there's blame on both sides," Trump told reporters during a news conference at Trump Tower last month. "You look at both sides — I think there's blame on both sides and I have no doubt about it, and you don't have any doubt about it either."
Scott: Trump's "moral authority is compromised"
"Racism is real. It is alive," Scott told VICE News in an interview that followed Trump's statements. He added, "What we want to see from our president is clarity and moral authority. And that moral authority is compromised... There's no question about that."
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters Tuesday the meeting between Trump and Scott was one that the senator "wanted to have with the president, and the president wanted to have the opportunity to meet one-on-one with the senator."
A source with knowledge of the planning says the meeting was born out of Scott's comments in a subsequent August interview with CBS News' Face the Nation, in which Scott said Trump needs personal connections to people of color.
"If the president wants to have a better understanding and appreciation for what he should do next, he needs to hear something from folks who have gone through this painful history," Scott said. "Without that personal connection to the painful past, it will be hard for him to regain that moral authority, from my perspective."
Scott to broach anti-poverty efforts, HBCUs, criminal justice policy
The source adds that Scott intends to talk with Trump about anti-poverty initiatives and efforts to promote historically black colleges and universities — issues on which White House staffers and Scott's office have been working for months.
A separate source tells NPR News that Scott plans to talk with Trump about bipartisan efforts on criminal justice and programs to help offenders re-enter society. Such initiatives were championed by former President Barack Obama, but prospects during the Trump administration have appeared dim.
The meeting comes as Trump has struggled with his relationship with African-American lawmakers on Capitol Hill and the constituents they represent. In June, the Congressional Black Caucus declined a second meeting with Trump, after concluding that the concerns it had expressed during an initial meeting with the new president "fell on deaf ears." The administration has also struggled recently with plans for an annual conference regarding HBCUs put on by the Education Department. And at a Black History Month event held at the White House soon after taking office, Trump railed against the media. But a few weeks later, Trump toured the new Smithsonian museum dedicated to African-American history while accompanied by Scott, HUD Secretary Ben Carson and others. "This museum is a beautiful tribute to so many American heroes," Trump said at the time, according to the Washington Post. "It's amazing to see."
Wednesday's meeting won't be Scott's first high-profile plunge into issues of race and justice.
Following last summer's widely publicized police shootings of black men in Louisiana, Minnesota and Dallas, Texas, Scott spoke on the Senate floor about his own encounters with law enforcement.
"I have felt the anger, the frustration, the sadness and the humiliation that comes with feeling like you're being targeted for nothing more than being just yourself," Scott said at the time.
He added: "I simply ask you this: Recognize that just because you do not feel the pain, the anguish of another, does not mean it does not exist. To ignore their struggles, our struggles, does not make them disappear. It will simply leave you blind and the American family very vulnerable."
Scott now plans to share a similar message directly with the president.