MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
I also spoke with Congresswoman Karen Bass. She is a Democrat from California. And she also has a deep background as a lawmaker, having served as a former speaker of the California Assembly. She's also an officer of the Congressional Black Caucus. When we spoke, I began by asking her to reflect on then-candidate Trump's attempt to appeal to African-American voters when he famously said, what do you have to lose?
KAREN BASS: They used to refer to him as a dog whistle, but I think most people now recognize it's a bullhorn. I think this last year has been absolutely positively horrific. We have seen a level of racism become normalized, something that we haven't seen for decades. And anytime you have the president of the United States making statements like he did a week ago about the entire continent of Africa, it's - he's consistent. How he views people of color around the world is the same as he views people of color in the United States. When he's talking about making America great again, many of us hear that as making America white again.
MARTIN: Well, let's go back to when you and other officers from the Congressional Black Caucus actually met with President Trump. That was in March of last year. Do you remember that meeting? Do you remember what your impressions were of him then?
BASS: I remember the meeting extremely well. And I do think it's important to say what led to the meeting because, you remember, there was a press conference in which he was asked about his urban agenda. And a reporter said, have you consulted the Congressional Black Caucus? He didn't know who the CBC was. But he did say to the reporter, who happened to be African-American, well, do you know them? You know, can you organize the meeting? As, of course, all black people do know each other.
And so the Congressional Black Caucus was extended an invitation for all 49 of our members to go to the White House. We chose to just send the leadership. We took the time to write a 125-page document that basically said, this is what we have to lose. Each of us made a presentation on a substantive area of policy. Mine was criminal justice. And basically, he wasn't really able to have a dialogue. We do think he paid attention. I just don't think that there was any there there to actually have a dialogue with us. And then he also made it clear just a few days ago what he thinks about the Congressional Black Caucus. When the Democratic senators mentioned that the CBC would be upset at the immigration proposal, he basically said he had no interest in what the Congressional Black Caucus said.
MARTIN: Well, speaking of those comments, I mean, over the course of the year, and even before that during the campaign, there were many remarks and tweets and policy proposals aimed at a lot of groups, you know - Mexicans, Mexican-Americans, Muslims, Muslim-Americans. And a lot of these comments have sparked commentary. But it's only after those comments about those countries that that he is reported to have made - and he denies that he said that - but it is after that that many people, including some of your colleagues, have said that they believe that he's racist, that he harbors racist views. They've been very blunt about that over the course of the week. And I'd like to ask you. And I think you may have already answered that. Do you think that that's true?
BASS: I think he has demonstrated that he is a racist, and he's demonstrated that over many decades, going back to when he was a young man in the housing discrimination lawsuits. But I will tell you something. It's way more significant to me. His policies are far more significant, and he demonstrated that on the first few days of his presidency.
On his first day of the presidency, he eliminated a program that gave tax credits for first-time homeowners. He rolled back consent decrees with troubled police departments. He's tried to eliminate the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice. They were seeking attorneys that wanted to overturn affirmative action.
His words are horrific, but his policies are damaging. And the wreckage that he has done to the government, even without congressional involvement, is, to me, far more important. You know, attacking NFL players, I mean, that was egregious. But doing what he's done policy wise is far, far more significant and dangerous to our communities.
MARTIN: That is Congresswoman Karen Bass, Democrat of California. She's one of the officers of the Congressional Black Caucus. Congresswoman, thank you so much for speaking with us.
BASS: Thanks for having me on. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.