The president invited Senator Tim Scott to the Oval Office for what Mr. Trump’s staff described as a demonstration of the president’s commitment to “positive race relations.”
WASHINGTON — Tim Scott, the lone black Republican in the Senate, delivered a pointed lecture on America’s 300-year legacy of racism to President Trump on Wednesday in response to what he called Mr. Trump’s “sterile” response to the riots in Charlottesville, Va., last month.
The president invited Mr. Scott, a conservative from South Carolina who had expressed disgust with Mr. Trump’s equivocal reaction to the white nationalist protests that left one woman dead, to the Oval Office for what Mr. Trump’s staff described as a demonstration of the president’s commitment to “positive race relations.”
When a reporter asked the senator if the president had expressed regret, a pained look flashed on Mr. Scott’s face. He paused for a few seconds and replied, “He certainly tried to explain what he was trying to convey.”
Soon after the meeting ended, White House officials emailed reporters a photograph of Mr. Trump listening intently as Mr. Scott made a point, with both sitting in chairs often used for bilateral meetings with foreign leaders. The White House misidentified him as Tom Scott.
Speaking to reporters later, Mr. Scott made it clear he was not there for a photo op, but to decisively rebut Mr. Trump’s claim — to the president’s face — that “both sides,” racists and anti-racist protesters, were responsible for the violence that followed a torchlight protest against the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee.
“My response was that, while that’s true, I mean I think if you look at it from a sterile perspective, there was an antagonist on the other side,” Mr. Scott said.
“However, the real picture has nothing to do with who is on the other side,” he said.
“It has to do with the affirmation of hate groups who over three centuries of this country’s history have made it their mission to create upheaval in minority communities as their reason for existence,” he continued. “I shared my thoughts of the last three centuries of challenges from white supremacists, white nationalists, KKK, Nazis. So there’s no way to find an equilibrium when you have three centuries of history versus the situation that is occurring today.”
For weeks, White House officials have been discussing ways to ease the tensions stoked by the demonstrations and exacerbated, in the view of many Republicans, by the president’s off-the-cuff comments in the wake of the unrest.
Extending an invitation to Mr. Scott, who has been outspoken on issues of racism while supportive of the president’s low-tax economic agenda, was an unsurprising choice. While critical of the president’s remarks, the 51-year-old former Charleston County councilman has often served as an even-tempered bridge between Republican leaders and African-Americans, who overwhelmingly view the party as hostile to their interests.
Several administration officials also attended the meeting, including Vice President Mike Pence; Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary; and Marc Short, the White House director of legislative affairs.
Mary Elizabeth Taylor, the White House deputy director of legislative affairs for nominations, who is black, was present — though the issue of nominations was not on the meeting’s agenda.
The highest-ranking African-American in the mostly white West Wing, Omarosa Manigault Newman, was not present.
Mr. Scott was careful to add that there was “no time of tension” in the meeting.
The president, he added, stayed focused on the subject of race during almost all of the meeting.
Mr. Trump “was ever-present during the entire meeting,” he said.