President Trump lashed out anew Tuesday at Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.) and the “corrupt” city he represents, saying residents of Baltimore are “living in hell” and claiming that thousands of African Americans have thanked him for highlighting the city’s problems.
Speaking to reporters as he left the White House, Trump also said that he would visit Baltimore “at the right time” and claimed that he has helped himself politically with his relentless attacks that began with tweets over the weekend in which he called the city a “rodent infested mess.”
“The African American community is so thankful,” Trump said as he prepared to head to a commemoration in Jamestown, Va., the birthplace of representative government in the United States. “They’ve called me and said finally someone is telling the truth.”
“Those people are living in hell in Baltimore,” Trump added. “They really appreciate what I’m doing, and they’ve let me know it.” He offered no specifics about who had reached out to him.
Trump blamed Cummings, the chairman of the House Oversight Committee, for problems in the city, saying, “he’s had a very iron hand on it.”
Trump had a 6 percent job approval rating among African American voters in a Quinnipiac poll released this week. That figure has ranged as high as 18 percent approval in recent Washington Post-ABC News polling.
Quinnipiac also released a finding Tuesday that 51 percent of voters think Trump is racist while 45 percent do not.
During his remarks to reporters, Trump said, “I am the least racist person there is anywhere in the world.”
Later Tuesday, as he returned to the White House, Trump was pressed by a reporter for specifics about who in the African American community had been thanking him for his comments on Cummings and Baltimore. He didn’t offer any.
“A lot of people. Many, many people,” Trump said.
Following a visit Monday afternoon with students attending summer programs at the University of Maryland at Baltimore, Cummings referenced the controversy with Trump in a tweet.
“I am fueled by these smart and energized young people and I will continue to do every day what I am duty-bounded to do — help my constituents to live their best lives and serve as a check on the Executive Branch,” he wrote.
Trump’s comments Tuesday echoed tweets sent late Monday night about Cummings and his majority-black congressional district, which includes part of Baltimore, as well as parts of two neighboring counties.
After misleadingly calling Baltimore’s statistics “the worst in the United States on Crime and the Economy,” Trump suggested that the city had wasted aid.
“Billions of dollars have been pumped in over the years, but to no avail,” Trump tweeted. “The money was stolen or wasted. Ask Elijah E. Cummings where it went. He should investigate himself with his Oversight Committee!”
As with Trump’s first attack on Cummings, the president’s Monday-night insults weren’t fired off in a vacuum. Rather, they came amid hours of programming on Fox News blasting Cummings and Democrats, and backing Trump’s complaints about Baltimore.
Kimberly Klacik, a Baltimore Republican whose Saturday morning appearance on Fox inspired Trump’s initial attacks, was back Monday night on “The Ingraham Angle,” and the president tuned in to watch. After quoting from Klacik’s interview on Twitter, Trump echoed a controversial 2016 campaign slogan aimed at black voters, writing: “What the h.... do you have to lose?”
Trump’s latest missives made clear that days of withering criticism from Democrats and some Republicans have done little to temper his drive for stoking racial tensions as an electoral strategy. They also starkly highlighted how Fox News and its array of Trump-backing hosts continue to drive the president’s daily agenda.
When Trump tuned in to Fox on Saturday, he was already enraged at Cummings over the Democrat’s role in investigating his businesses and relatives as chairman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, and for his criticisms of Trump’s border strategy.
That anger was ignited by Klacik’s segment on “Fox & Friends Weekend,” featuring footage of dilapidated buildings and garbage in Cummings’s district. (The piece didn’t note that the district includes above-average median incomes, famed institutions such as the Johns Hopkins Hospital and even rental units owned by Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner.)
Thus began a familiar cycle, exemplified earlier this month when Trump sent a racist tweet aimed at four minority Democratic congresswomen and demanding that they “go back” to the “crime infested places from which they came,” despite the fact that all four are U.S. citizens. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) likewise deemed Trump’s broadside against Cummings a “racist attack,” echoing many other prominent Democrats.
Two days of brutal verbal sparring followed. Trump first insisted that “Democrats always play the Race Card,” before then accusing Cummings — who is African American and whose district is nearly 53 percent black — of himself being “racist.” When the Rev. Al Sharpton joined the fray and slammed Trump for criticizing Cummings in “the most bigoted and racist way,” Trump claimed in a tweet that the former Democratic presidential candidate “Hates Whites & Cops.”
At the White House this week, The Washington Post reported, some advisers worried that Trump’s attacks on Cummings would distract from larger issues and declined to defend his more personal insults lobbed at the congressman. A Monday afternoon White House meeting with black pastors, many of whom supported Trump, hinted at a potential easing of hostilities.
But by Monday night, a trio of Fox News hosts went on air to enthusiastically back the president. As CNN’s Brian Stelter reported, Tucker Carlson’s show touted how “DEMS HAVE FAILED BALTIMORE,” while Sean Hannity cued up a segment on the “CRISIS IN BALTIMORE.” Laura Ingraham, meanwhile, invited Klacik back on the show under the chyron, “DEMOCRATS WRECK CITIES, BLAME TRUMP.”
Amid that cable news support, Trump returned to Twitter and his familiar grievances against Cummings and Baltimore. Trump has taken particular umbrage at Cummings for criticizing his Department of Homeland Security chief during a congressional hearing earlier this month over reports of unsanitary conditions for children at border facilities.
“None of us would have our children in that position,” Cummings said during the hearing. “They are human beings.”
On Monday night, Trump again hit out at the congressman over that critique.
Emily Guskin contributed to this article.