Timing is everything. On Friday, a day after news broke that President Trump had rejected a bipartisan immigration deal while dismissing immigrants from “shithole” countries—comments widely denounced as racist—Trump gathered a group of African American supporters to applaud his signing of a proclamation for the upcoming Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.
Earlier this week, with cameras rolling, Trump had called for a “bill of love” on immigration, and said he would sign whatever bill Congress sent him. But Trump reportedly rejected the compromise senators presented because it would extend Temporary Protected Status for immigrants from El Salvador, Haiti and other countries. Trump had already decided to end that status for Haitians and Salvadorans, threatening to force hundreds of thousands of long-term residents to leave the U.S. When Haiti was mentioned on the list of TPS countries, CNN reported, “Trump asked why the U.S. wants more people from Haiti and African countries,” and later said, “Why do we need more Haitians? Take them out.”
On Friday, as part of his comments about King, Trump read from a script, “we pledge to fight for his dream of equality, freedom, justice and peace.” Ahem.
Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson followed Trump to the microphone and urged activists to keep God at the center of their work for freedom and equality. Doing so, he said, would keep that work from being “meaningless words rolling off of our tongue,” which Carson presumably did not intend as a reference to Trump’s words from a few moments earlier.
Carson also thanked Trump for signing legislation earlier this month that upgraded the civil rights leader’s birthplace, church and burial site from a national historic site to a national historic park. Also speaking was MLK nephew Isaac Newton Farris Jr., who urged people to commemorate his uncle with acts of service to others.
Among those who appeared to be in the crowd applauding Trump were the Family Research Council’s Ken Blackwell, who served on Trump’s transition team and on his now-defunct election commission; Harry Jackson, a member of the Trump-boosting apostolic network POTUS Shield; and Day Gardner, an anti-abortion activist who was part of the Trump campaign’s “national diversity coalition.” Last August, Jackson and Gardner took part in a press conference seemingly designed to upstage a march by faith leaders challenging the Trump administration on racial issues.
Vice President Mike Pence also stood with Trump but did not speak.