By Niall Stanage - 12-06-16 06:00 AM EST
Black activists and lawmakers are intensifying their opposition to President-elect Donald Trump's appointments, arguing that his picks will pursue an anti-civil rights agenda.
The Rev. Al Sharpton told The Hill that he is organizing a rally at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in Washington on Jan. 14, six days before Trump's inauguration.
Sharpton said the rally would "put the Democrats on notice that we expect them to use the nomination hearings to really go after" Trump's choices.
The activist and MSNBC host added that he expected "thousands" of people would turn out for the event, which will take place two days before the public holiday commemorating King.
"Our focus is not President Trump, who we don't think we can turn around," Sharpton said. "Our focus is that the Democrats should not weaken, and so weaken everything that Dr. King achieved and everything that President Obama has achieved."
Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions (R) has emerged as the biggest target for Sharpton and other civil rights figures, after Trump picked him to lead the Justice Department. The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights has previously asserted that Sessions has a "record of hostility" toward voting rights. Sessions was also rejected for a federal judgeship in 1986 amid accusations of racism, which he denied.
There is also discontent about Trump's selection of Ben Carson as his choice to lead the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Carson, who grew up in poverty in Detroit but went on to become a renowned neurosurgeon, is the first African-American named to Trump's Cabinet.
Carson is a staunch conservative whose presidential run earlier this year was primarily fueled by his opposition to the Affordable Care Act, or ObamaCare, and his popularity on the religious right.
In an op-ed for the Washington Times last year, Carson blasted an Obama administration regulation that sought to tackle persistent housing segregation, suggesting it would become the latest in a long line of "failed socialist experiments."
Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.), a senior member of the Congressional Black Caucus, took issue with Carson's rhetoric in a statement released Monday afternoon.
Meeks asserted that "Dr. Carson's past statements on housing have not been consistent with the Congressional intent behind many of HUD's programs." He added that Carson had "lambasted the Department's fair lending mission, calling our civil rights laws 'mandated social engineering schemes.'"
Black discontent with the imminent Trump presidency is no surprise. Black voters backed Democrat Hillary Clinton over Trump by 89 percent to 8 percent on Election Day, according to exit polls.
While that was not so emphatic as President Obama's performance with black voters in his two presidential election victories, it was very similar to the figures achieved by then-Sen. John Kerry in 2004 and then-Vice President Al Gore in 2000.
In addition, the appointment of Steve Bannon to be Trump's chief strategist in the White House unnerved many black politicos. Bannon, a former Breitbart News executive, is identified with the "alt-right," a hazily defined movement associated with white nationalism. Bannon has denied he is a white nationalist or a racist.
Other figures in the Trump orbit also discomfit black liberals. David Clarke, the ultraconservative black sheriff of Milwaukee County, is among those who have met with the president-elect in Trump Tower. In the past, Clarke has suggested that the Black Lives Matter movement would "join forces with ISIS to bring down our legal constituted republic."
On Monday, Clarke tweeted that Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) was engaging in "ugly race politics" by mocking what the Democratic congressman saw as Carson's lack of experience. Clarke followed up by implying that Democrats who criticized Carson were engaged in "dog whistle racism."
Some civil rights activists cast their opposition to Trump's nominees in broad terms.
"His nominees are either longtime Washington insiders or billionaires who each have demonstrated little regard for working people or women or LGBT people or people of color," said Nancy Zirkin, executive vice president of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.
"Stephen Bannon's white nationalist ties, Sen. Sessions's clear record of antagonism to civil rights throughout a very long career, Betsy DeVos's intent to defund public education, former labor secretary Elaine Chao's rollback to worker protections, Ben Carson's opposition to enforcing the Fair Housing Act, Rep. Tom Price's efforts to roll back Medicare ... these are just some of our concerns about how this administration will govern. And every American who cares about their kids, their health care, their jobs or their housing should take notice."
DeVos, Chao and Price are Trump's choices to lead the departments of Education, Transportation and Health, respectively.
Sharpton argued that black opposition was founded on the belief that Trump's picks were outside the mainstream, even for an incoming GOP president.
"When George Bush was in, he didn't have anyone - to me - who was so far away from having a regard for respect and civil rights," Sharpton said.