Trump met with more than 100 black pastors on Monday
Several said they haven't made up their minds about the 2016 race yet
Donald Trump enthusiastically emerged from a lengthy meeting with black pastors in New York City on Monday, defiantly dismissing criticism from some in the African-American community that he is espousing racist rhetoric.
“I saw love in that room. I see love everywhere I go,” Trump told reporters with characteristic bombast in an impromptu press conference in the lobby of Trump Tower in midtown Manhattan.
Flanked by black religious leaders supporting his candidacy, Trump claimed there were more than 100 people in the two-and-a-half hour meeting, and that he expected “many, many endorsements” to come.
“This meeting was amazing. Amazing people,” Trump said. “The meeting went so much longer, and it went longer only because of the love. It didn’t go longer for other reasons.”
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The billionaire real estate mogul also told CNN he did not make commitments to make financial contributions to the churches represented by the black leaders he met with.
Darrell Scott, the organizer of Monday’s meeting, said a formal endorsement was forthcoming.
“We made history today,” Scott said. “We had meaningful dialogue with Mr. Donald Trump. We voiced concerns that are sensitive to the African-American community and we asked questions and the questions were answered where we were all satisfied with the answers.”
Monday’s meeting was at the source of much controversy – and confusion.
Last week, his campaign initially trumpeted the event, calling it a meeting with “a coalition of 100 African-American Evangelical pastors and religious leaders who will endorse the GOP front-runner after a private meeting.”
But several black pastors invited to the gathering quickly rebutted the endorsement talk. This forced the cancellation of the planned press conference and left Trump in an awkward spot.
The backlash came as Trump has drawn fresh condemnation after a Black Lives Matter protester was physically attacked at his campaign rally. Rather than condemn the violence, the real estate mogul said that perhaps the person “should have been roughed up.”
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Asked at the press conference to address Black Lives Matter movement, Trump said he had no interest in going there.
“I don’t want to discuss that,” he said. “Black lives are very important. White lives are very important. To me, all lives are very important.”
Not everyone attending Monday’s meeting was supportive of Trump.
Arriving at Trump Tower, some even shared their deep concerns about the candidate’s rhetoric, particularly about race and immigration.
Pastor Victor Couzens of Cincinnati, Ohio, who attended Monday’s meeting and is not endorsing Trump, said the candidate owed the Black Lives Matter protester an apology. He also expressed reservations about what he considers Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric.
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“It’s very unfortunate the way he has talked to mot just the African-American community but the things he has said about women, Mexicans and Muslims,” Couzens told reporters on his way into Trump Tower. “What’s more discouraging than the things that he has said is the fact that in the face of him saying all these things, he continues to surge in the polls. That really concerns me.”
But plenty of attendees showed enthusiastic support for Trump, saying Trump has been villainized by his critics and some in the media.
“You want stories, you want controversy. Anybody who knows Donald Trump personally knows that he’s not a racist,” said Steve Parson, a black pastor from Richmond, Virginia. Parson said he was in “total support” of Trump.
In an op-ed in EBONY magazine published Friday, pastors, seminary professors and Christian activists critical of Trump asked the group backing the candidate to consider the impact that endorsing him could have on their congregations.
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“By siding with a presidential candidate whose rhetoric pathologizes Black people, what message are you sending to the world about the Black lives in and outside of your congregations? Which Black lives do you claim to be liberating,” the leaders wrote.
Scott, the organizer of Monday’s meeting, responded by saying African-Americans engaged in name-calling should be “ashamed.”
“They accused Mr. Trump of being an insulting individual but they’ve levied insults at us that I wouldn’t levy against people I hate,” Scott said. “They don’t know the Donald Trump that we know.”
CNN’s Tom Lobianco, Eric Bradner and Noah Gray contributed to this report.