Politics

Trump talks criminal justice reform at historically black college days after comparing impeachment fight to a 'lynching'

Key Points
  • President Trump delivered the keynote address at the bipartisan Second Step Presidential Justice Forum at the historically black Benedict College in South Carolina.
  • President Trump's speech focused on his successful passage in 2018 of the First Step Act, a bipartisan criminal justice reform law.
  • President Trump drew backlash from both sides of the aisle on Tuesday when he likened the impeachment inquiry against him to "a lynching," evoking racially motivated attacks against African Americans from the end of the Civil War into the 1960s.
President Donald Trump takes a question during a press conference in New York, September 25, 2019, on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly.
Saul Loeb | AFP | Getty Images

President Donald Trump on Friday delivered the keynote address at the 2019 Second Step Presidential Justice Forum at the historically black Benedict College in South Carolina.

The speech marked President Trump's first visit to a historically black college since taking office in 2017.

Trump's speech focused on his administration's passage in 2018 of the First Step Act, one of the few bipartisan bills to get through Congress.

"The First Step Act proved we could achieve amazing breakthroughs when we come together as a nation and put the interests of our citizens before the interests of any political party," Trump said in his speech on Friday.

The law focuses on reducing mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenders, and is one of the few pieces of legislation in Congress to receive support from both sides of the political aisle.

Trump also welcomed Alice Marie Johnson to the stage for remarks, whose prison sentence he commuted in June 2018 following advocacy from Kim Kardashian West.

Trump's speech comes after a tumultuous week for the president on race relations. Trump drew a heap of backlash on Tuesday for likening the House's impeachment inquiry against him to a "lynching." Lynchings were racially motivated attacks led by white mobs against African Americans from the end of the Civil War into the 1960s.

A spokeswoman for Benedict College declined to comment on the president's lynching comment.

South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, who is also the only black Republican in the Senate, said "There's no question that the impeachment process is the closest thing to a political death row trial, so I get his absolute rejection of the process."

But, Scott added, "I wouldn't use the word lynching."

The African American Mayors Association, a co-host of the weekend's forum at Benedict, said in a statement, "We are offended by the president's comments on "lynching" and the distortion of the historic horrors of racial violence in this country."

"We urge the President to retract his comments."

Trump's comments drew the ire of the Democratic presidential field, of which 10 candidates are expected to hold town halls during the weekend's events at Benedict.

Former Vice President Joe Biden said Trump's comments were "despicable," in a statement on Twitter.

Biden also apologized for using the same language during President Bill Clinton's impeachment proceedings in 1998. 

African American Sens. Cory Booker and Kamala Harris, who are both running for president and will hold town halls at Benedict over the weekend, excoriated President Trump's comments in their own Twitter posts.

VIDEO0:4700:47
Trump commutes sentence of woman following plea by Kim Kardashian West