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Trump takes aim at support for historically black colleges

Trump told HBCU officials these institutions of higher learning will be "an absolute priority for this White House." He may have meant the opposite.
Image: Donald Trump, Neil Gorsuch, Anthony Kennedy
President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting with business leaders in the State Department Library on the White House complex in Washington, Tuesday, April 11, 2017.
In late February, Donald Trump signed an executive order intended to signal support for historically black colleges and universities. The Republican president, who hosted a widely seen photo-op in the Oval Office with HBCU officials, said at the time that these institutions of higher learning would be "an absolute priority for this White House."Trump added at the time, "I am thrilled to be signing an executive order to recognize the importance of historically black colleges and universities -- very important. They have played such an important role in achieving progress for African Americans in our nation's march for justice."As it turns out, the White House is saying something quite different now. Politico reported over the weekend:

President Donald Trump signaled Friday that he may not implement a 25-year-old federal program that helps historically black colleges finance construction projects on their campuses, suggesting that it may run afoul of the Constitution.In a signing statement on the $1.1 trillion omnibus government spending bill, Trump singled out the Historically Black College and University Capital Financing Program as an example of provisions in the funding bill "that allocate benefits on the basis of race, ethnicity, and gender."

A Washington Post report added, "People in higher education circles worried that the statement meant that the president was planning to get rid of a capital financing program that helps historically black colleges repair, renovate and build new facilities."The Post's report added that Trump intends to treat the financing program "in a manner consistent with the (constitutional) requirement to afford equal protection of the laws."In fairness, no one knows exactly what that's intended to mean.Indeed, there's some ambiguities surrounding the administration's position. Trump, who obviously doesn't keep up on policy details or the substance of any area, pointed to the Historically Black College and University Capital Financing Program -- a program that helps these school receive low-cost construction loans -- as potentially problematic, but no one can say what that means in practical terms, or what the White House intends to do next.Derek W. Black, a law professor at the University of South Carolina School of Law who studies constitutional and education law, told Politico the signing statement is "rather odd." The professor added, "If Congress is validly spending money on these programs, and there's no court finding or litigation suggesting discrimination, the idea that the executive would unilaterally not allocate those funds would be a rather momentous position to take."It'd also be the exact opposite of what Trump told officials from these schools as recently as late February.As a candidate, the Republican billionaire routinely told largely white audiences, "Look at how much African-American communities are suffering from Democratic control. To those I say the following: what do you have to lose by trying something new like Trump? What do you have to lose?"As it turns out, they have quite a bit to lose.