WASHINGTON — President Trump focused on efforts to reform the prison system Wednesday, meeting with faith leaders and lawmakers at the White House.
In a roundtable discussion with nearly 20 inner city pastors and faith leaders, Trump touted a low unemployment rate and booming economy that he said would make it easier for former prisoners to reintegrate into society.
“We have passed the First Step Act through the House and we are working to pass that into law, and I think we’ll be able to do it. When we say 'hire American,' we mean all Americans,” the president told a group that included Trump supporters Paul White-Cain, Alveda King and Pastor Darrell Scott, along with celebrity pastor John Gray. White House chief of staff General John Kelly and son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner were also present.
The House passed the bipartisan prison reform bill in May.
Following Wednesday's event, Trump met with a group of lawmakers to discuss the issue. The group, which met behind closed doors, included GOP prison and sentencing reform advocates such as Judiciary Committee chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.)
The largely pro-Trump group present at the public event praised the president for his efforts on criminal justice reform and the economy. "This is probably the most pro-active administration regarding urban America and the faith-based community in my lifetime," said Scott, a Trump surrogate during the 2016 campaign.
"This president actually wants to prove something to our community, our faith-based community and our ethnic community. The last president didn’t feel like he had to. He got a pass,” he added, referring to President Obama. “This is probably going to be... the most pro-black president I’ve seen in my lifetime.”
Trump, who has said improving life in urban areas is a priority, boasted that he has "done far more for inner cities than anyone else." As a candidate in 2016, he drew controversy for comparing safety in the nation's urban areas unfavorably to that in Afghanistan.
Weeks later, he met with reality star Kim Kardashian West, who lobbied him to pardon Alice Marie Johnson, a 63 year old grandmother who was serving a life sentence for drug charges. After Trump pardoned Johnson, he asked NFL players for recommendations on others who should be given clemency.
Trump has since promised more pardons, saying the administration was looking at thousands of cases where he believed people had been treated unfairly, or received too harsh a sentence.
However, his administration's efforts on the issue, spearheaded by Kushner, have focused more on support for programs providing rehabilitation and job training for inmates, rather than sentencing reform.
Gray told NBC News after the meeting that the discussion was a "first step."
"I can’t speak for everyone in the room. I came in with my mouth closed and my ears open out of respect because as we know there has been a lot of great pain and turmoil in the first part of this administration from many different sides. So my job was not to come in with my own mindset and issue. That was not a partisan issue, but a human issue."