In a major feature story published today, NBC News reports that three major White House Initiatives — each designed to coordinate outreach to and enhance educational opportunities for communities of colour — have not had expected or scheduled meetings with anyone in the White House since President Trump took office in January.
The three Initiatives each have their own Presidential Advisory Commissions comprised of a mixture of government officials and public advisors — many of them educators — as well as full-time staff to help carry out the Initiatives’ ongoing projects and objectives. Each have been instrumental in developing community outreach programs, sponsoring summits, and providing internship opportunities for their respective communities; and, many of those efforts remain ongoing even after Trump’s inauguration in January. With regard to the Asian American & Pacific Islander communities, WHIAAPI served as a communications hub that helped coordinate efforts between the federal government and community organizers on topics as wide-ranging as health disparities, language inaccess, data disaggregation, and classroom bullying. Furthermore, WHIAAPI provided unprecedented access for the AAPI community to voice public interest concerns directly to the White House.
However, according to NBC News, none of the White House’s three Presidential Advisory Commissions addressing Black, Hispanic, or AAPI communities have met since January, and there has been no communication between the Trump administration and commission members. The three Initiatives associated with these Commissions have received no direction from the Trump White House on their mission over the four years of the president’s term in office, and indeed, it remains unclear whether the three Initiatives will even continue to exist under the Trump administration.
Asian American advocacy group, National Korean American Service & Education Consortium (NAKASEC), is currently one week into a marathon 22-day vigil in front of the White House. Activists with NAKASEC are protesting Republican efforts to eliminate the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and the Temporary Protective Status (TPS) programs, two programs that grant protection from deportation and offers work authorization to certain undocumented immigrants.
DACA was implemented in 2012 as a program to provide protection for undocumented immigrants who are current (or recently graduated) students, who have no criminal history, and who who were brought to the United States as young children. Undocumented immigrants registered under DACA — known colloquially as Dreamers — were raised knowing only America as their home. Yet, without deportation protection, they are at-risk of being detained and removed by Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) to a totally unfamiliar country. TPS is a program that provides deportation relief for undocumented immigrants whose lives would be at risk due to war or environmental catastrophe if they were returned to their countries of origin; currently, TPS covers undocumented immigrants from El Savador, Haiti, Honduras, Nepal, Nicaragua, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan, Syria and Yemen.
Earlier this week, President Trump held a press conference in the lobby of Trump Tower, where the president — flanked by Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao and Chief Economic Advisor Gary Cohn — delivered an impromptu series of remarks on the weekend’s white supremacist violence in Charlottesville.
It was the President’s third commentary on the neo-Nazi rally in Virginia that left one woman — Heather Heyer, 32, — dead and eighteen others injured after a white supremacist drove his car into a crowd of non-violent counter-protesters. In his initial remarks delivered soon after Heyer’s killing, Trump refused to condemn neo-Nazi demonstrators and instead blamed the violence “on many sides”; he received widespread and bipartisan criticism for the equivocation. The White House was quick to attempt damage control, issuing a tepid statement that attributed condemnation of white supremacists to an unnamed White House representative. On Monday — more than 48 hours after Charlottesville was besieged by white supremacists — Trump also delivered a prepared statement that labeled white supremacists and neo-Nazis as “repugnant”. Again, Trump was widely criticized for offering too little, too late. Within hours of issuing those second comments, Trump returned to Twitter to rail against his critics for being dissatisfied with the remarks.
By Tuesday, Trump was once again ready to give up the charade that he was not on the side of neo-Nazis. In Tuesday’s press conference — ostensibly held to unveil the administration’s latest infrastructure reforms — Trump doubled down on his moral equivalence between violent white supremacists and the counter-protesters who demonstrated against their racism. Manufacturing a supposed “alt-left” (experts agree that the term was invented by conservative media as a slur against leftists), Trump alleged that left-wing activists attacked white supremacists with clubs and provoked the weekend’s violence. Trump concluded his bizarre commentary by undermining his previous day’s remarks and blaming “both sides” for Charlottesville, albeit with more of his moral outrage directed towards leftist counter-protesters.
For a man who has built his entire career around manipulating the media to fuel his own preening self-image, it’s hard to believe that Trump had not planned to issue fresh remarks on Charlottesville on Tuesday. It’s also hard to miss the optics of Tuesday’s press event: Trump stood in steadfast defense of white supremacist terrorists while he surrounded himself with the highest-ranking woman of colour in his administration as well as one of his most senior Jewish American advisors. Trump presented himself alongside Chao and Cohn as if to say: “no matter what spews out of my mouth today, I can’t be accused of being racist; look who my friends are!”
In a joint letter, the private members of the Committee on the Arts and the Humanities criticized the president for the president’s remarks in the wake of last weekend’s white supremacist violence, which left one woman and three police officers dead and several other civilians injured. In a blistering letter addressed to the president (that really must be read in full to be appreciated), the Committee’s members wrote:
The Administration’s refusal to quickly and unequivocally condemn the cancer of hatred only further emboldens those who wish America ill. We cannot sit idly by, the way that your West Wing advisors have, without speaking out against your words and actions.
…Supremacy, discrimination, and vitriol are not American values. Your values are not American values. We must be better than this. We are better than this. If this is not clear to you, then we call on you to resign your office, too.
The full letter (after the jump) was shared by Committee member Kal Penn on his Twitter, where it has already been retweeted nearly 9,000 times.
US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, the nation’s youngest and first Indian American Surgeon General, was asked to resign on Friday by President Donald Trump, just a little more than halfway into his four year term.
Murthy served just over two years as US Surgeon General after being appointed by President Barack Obama in 2013; however, Murthy’s Senate confirmation faced stiff resistance due in part to Murthy’s public position that the nation’s epidemic of gun violence is a public health issue. Murthy was finally confirmed in December 2014 after over a year of political bickering and delays from Senate Republicans, and he took the office of US Surgeon General on December 18, 2014.
While I had hoped to do more to help our nation tackle its biggest health challenges, I will be forever grateful for the opportunity to have served. The role of the Surgeon General is traditionally to share wisdom with others, but it was I who learned so much by listening to your stories in town halls and living rooms. In a remote fishing village in Alaska, a church in Alabama, an American Indian reservation in Oklahoma, a school in Virginia, and in so many other places, I watched the grit and grace with which our fellow Americans live their lives.
It is unclear why Trump had Murthy removed from his office as US Surgeon General. By all accounts, Murthy was a successful US Surgeon General, with clear vision for how he had planned to use the office to advance American public health.