WASHINGTON (AP) — The White House said Wednesday that President Donald Trump has declined an invitation to speak at the NAACP's annual convention next week in Baltimore, leading the nation's oldest civil rights organization to question the president's commitment to his African American constituents.
"During his campaign, President Trump asked us 'what do you have to lose?'" NAACP Board Chairman Leon Russell said. "We get the message loud and clear. The president's decision today underscores the harsh fact: we have lost - we've lost the will of the current administration to listen to issues facing the black community."
White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders made the announcement to reporters that the president declined the NAACP's invitation to speak at its 108th annual convention. Trump also did not speak to the NAACP convention last year, citing scheduling conflicts with the Republican National Convention.
The NAACP found out from reporters that Sanders had announced that Trump would not attend.
Sanders said while the president had declined the invitation, "certainly the invitation for dialogue with that group would happily take place and we'd certainly like to continue to do that."
Russell called Trump's decision a "historic departure from past presidents' engagements with the association," saying former Presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan all addressed the NAACP.
"When President Trump is ready to listen to us and the people we serve, we will be here," Russell said. "Until then, the NAACP will continue to strive for an America free from racism and continue to speak truth to power."
Trump was the first GOP presidential nominee in years not to address the NAACP last year. Republican nominees John McCain in 2008 and Mitt Romney in 2012 both addressed the NAACP convention before losing to Obama in the general elections.
Associated Press writer Jesse J. Holland contributed to this report.