Trump meets with Martin Luther King III to discuss voting rights

President-elect Donald Trump, who spent the weekend engaged in a war of words with civil rights activist and U.S. Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), met Monday with Martin Luther King III to discuss voting rights.

The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s eldest son came to Trump Tower with a handful of colleagues affiliated with the Drum Major Institute, a progressive public policy think tank where he is president. After it ended, he told reporters there they had a “constructive” discussion.

“It is very clear that the system is not working at its maximum” when it comes to voter participant, he said, and Trump said repeatedly “that he is going to represent all Americans… I believe that’s his intent. I believe we have to consistently engage with pressure, public pressure. It doesn’t happen automatically, my father and his team understood that, did that.”

The private session at Trump Tower with civil rights advocates, on the same day the nation is honoring the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, represented a mix of symbolism and substance. King III has campaigned for years to establish a form of free government photo identification that could make it easier for Americans who lack a driver’s license or other official ID to cast ballots. He and the other attendees, including the Rev. James A. Forbes, have urged Trump to endorse the idea of making such identification free.

But it also provided Trump, who is viewed largely in unfavorable terms by African Americans, with an opening to the black community. In national exit polling in November, black voters favored Hillary Clinton over Trump by a margin of 89 percent to 8 percent.Trump tweeted Monday: “Celebrate Martin Luther King Day and all the many wonderful things that he stood for. Honor him for the great man that he was!”

Speaking on NBC’s “Today Show” before the meeting, Trump spokesman Sean Spicer said, “Today, President-elect Trump is going to sit down with Martin Luther King III and others in New York and have a conversation about voting, about bringing more people into the system, the legacy of Dr. King and how we can continue to pursue that under the Trump administration.”

Many African American leaders see the distribution of a free government ID as a critical boost to low-income Americans who cannot open a bank account without one. The lack of an ID not only makes it more difficult to vote in several states, but it also often makes individuals dependent on check-cashing operations that charge high commissions.

In a letter to Trump, former U.N. ambassador and civil rights activist Andrew Young, who was invited to attend but had a scheduling conflict in Nashville, wrote that when he and others have pressed for the change, “I always ask who could possibly be opposed to such a common sense solution and receive only one answer: check cashers. A photo ID card is truly a freedom card.”

According to one of the meeting’s participants, who asked for anonymity to discuss a private conversation, Trump expressed a serious interest in making photos available on Social Security cards and said he would study the issue in further detail.

King III, who had urged the Obama administration to make a government photo ID ubiquitous, invited Trump on Jan. 8 to commemorate his father’s birthday by accompanying him on a visit to his memorial on the Mall. Instead, Trump’s aides suggested that they meet at Trump Tower.

All of the meeting attendees have a connection to the Drum Major Institute, which pledges to carry “forward the nonviolent social change legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. by promoting economic justice, building community, and fostering a global culture of civil and human rights.” Forbes is its chairman; William Wachtel, a New York lawyer, co-founded the institute; and Scott Rechler, a board member who is the chief executive and chairman of RXR Realty, also attended the session.

Young, who is chairman emeritus of the Drum Major Institute, wrote Trump that he thought it was appropriate for his colleagues to go ahead with the meeting, “having sent an invitation before the regrettable exchange between you and my friend John Lewis.”

“The first rule of Kingian nonviolence is that you can never find common ground without conversation,” he added.

Speaking to reporters about Trump’s dispute with Lewis, King III said, “First of all I think that in the heat of emotion a lot of things get said on both sides” and that Lewis and others could serve as bridge builders over time. “The goal is to bring America together and Americans.”

In an op-ed published in The Washington Post last week, King III noted that Trump won in states such as Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin, where minority turnout declined and stricter voter identification requirements may have deterred some minorities from voting.

“While we can’t know how those affected would have voted, we can agree that every citizen should have the unfettered opportunity to vote,” he wrote. “Indeed, my concern is not how people vote, but simply that they vote.”

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, seven states have strict photo ID laws — voters lacking such identification can only cast provisional ballots — and eight have less-stringent photo ID requirements.

King III, along with Young, has proposed that the Social Security Administration place a photo on the cards they give every citizen or that the State Department waive the $55 passport fee for low-income Americans.

“Many people are concerned that our new president could undo much of what the outgoing president has achieved,” King III wrote in the op-ed. “But in the area of voting rights, I am the opposite of concerned; I am hopeful in recognition that there is an opportunity to build a better system.”

Several prominent Democrats, including former presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, have endorsed the idea. But some — such as Lewis — have argued that it might leave Americans more vulnerable to data theft. And libertarians, such as Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), also oppose a universal government ID.

Proponents of the voter card emphasize that it will be voluntary, rather than universal, and said it represents a rational response to the fact that voter ID laws are poised to proliferate given Republicans’ recent gains on the state and federal level.

“We’re going to end up with more and more voter ID laws,” said American Enterprise Institute resident scholar Norman Ornstein. “And that’s a reality, and the question pragmatically is, what is the best way to deal with it?”

Ornstein noted that looking at minority turnout in the 2016 presidential election results, “It was down more in states with strict laws than in states without it. That’s pretty clear evidence that these laws are aimed to suppress votes.”

Wendy R. Weiser, who directs the Democracy Program at New York University Law School’s Brennan Center for Justice, said in an email that the idea of a free government ID would theoretically resolve the dispute that has divided the parties in the past.

“My reservation is practical: no state has succeeded in providing free and accessible IDs to those without them, even when they have tried,” Weiser said. “Our system is not set up well for that.”

© DOMINICK REUTER President-elect Donald Trump shakes hands with Martin Luther King III after meeting at Trump Tower in New York on Jan. 16, 2017.

On King day, Trump meets with Martin Luther King III

Donald Trump marked the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday Monday by meeting with the son of the civil rights icon, engaging in a conversation about making it easier for people to vote.

Martin Luther King III said he had an "extraordinarily constructive conversation" with the president-elect about a "broken voting system," and that Trump listened to his idea of providing free voter identification cards to all Americans.

"It is very clear that the system is not working at its maximum," King said.

Prior to the meeting, Trump himself tweeted about the holiday: "Celebrate Martin Luther King Day and all of the many wonderful things that he stood for. Honor him for being the great man that he was!"

Trump and other Republican lawmakers have endorsed so-called "Voter ID laws" that require people to provide forms of identification before being allowed to vote; critics say those laws are designed to block voting by African-Americans and other minorities.

King's idea is to have the government provide identification cards to all eligible voters.

The meeting took place four days before Trump's swearing-in as the nation's 45th president, and amid a dispute with another civil rights figure, U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga.

Over the weekend, Lewis described Trump as an illegitimate president, citing Russian efforts to sabotage Hillary Clinton's campaign during the presidential campaign; Trump fired back on Twitter, calling Lewis "all talk" and "no action."

King declined to get drawn into the Lewis-Trump dispute, saying he wanted to be a "bridge builder" in a divided nation.

"In the heat of emotion, a lot of things get said on both sides," King said.

Asked what his father might have said to the president-elect, King cited another issue: Poverty.

"I think my father would be very concerned about that fact that we have 50 to 60 million people living in poverty,  and somehow we've got to create the climate for all boats to be lifted," King said. "It's insanity that we have poor people in this nation. That’s unacceptable."

Donald Trump meets with Martin Luther King III on MLK Day after museum trip called off

President-elect Donald Trump met with Martin Luther King III on Monday, as the country observed the holiday honoring King's father.

The two were seen shaking hands in the Trump Tower lobby following the early afternoon meeting, which addressed voter participation and poverty, King said.

Trump said "over and over" during the session that "he's going to represent Americans ... I think that we will continue to evaluate that," said King, who followed his father's footsteps in his work on human rights.

Trump had earlier been rumored to spend Martin Luther King Jr. Day visiting the Smithsonian Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C. — but the trip was called off due to unspecified "scheduling issues."

King answered questions from a handful of reporters after the meeting and briefly discussed the simmering feud between the President-elect and Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), who said that he didn't consider Trump a "legitimate president."

"In the heat of emotion, a lot of things get said on both sides," King said.

"The goal is to bring America together, and Americans," he added. "We are a great nation, but we must become a greater nation."

William Wachtel – a lawyer who relaunched the Drum Major Institute, a think-tank and community action group, with King – also attended the meeting and later displayed a mock-up Social Security card featuring an image of Trump. The non-profit wants Trump to improve the government’s photo ID system to give more people the opportunity to vote.

The Rev. James A. Forbes and Scott Rechler were also present, the Washington Post reports.

Trump posted a message on Twitter honoring Martin Luther King Jr., the civil rights icon who was assassinated in 1968.

“Celebrate Martin Luther King Day and all of the many wonderful things that he stood for,” he wrote. “Honor him for being the great man that he was!”

Lewis and dozens of other lawmakers have said they plan to boycott Trump's inauguration after Trump wrote on Twitter that Lewis was "all talk" and that his district was in "horrible shape and falling apart."

Lewis worked alongside King and other civil rights activists during the 1960s, and was severely beaten during the "Bloody Sunday" marches from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama.

Sean Spicer, Trump's incoming press secretary, blamed Lewis for the feud.

"Congressman Lewis started this," Spicer told NBC's "Today" on Monday. "To see somebody of John Lewis' stature and iconic nature who has worked so hard to enfranchise people and talk about people getting involved with our voting systems, and talking about the integrity of our voting systems, to then go out when the candidate of his choice didn't win and try to talk about the delegitimization of the election, is frankly, disappointing."

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