BALTIMORE (AP) — President Donald Trump on Thursday is making his first visit to Baltimore since describing it nearly two months ago as a “disgusting, rat and rodent-infested mess” where “no human being would want to live.”
Trump won’t be inspecting conditions in the city, though. Instead, he’ll be speaking to congressional Republicans attending an annual retreat in a hotel on the city’s waterfront. Protesters have gathered nearby. But inside, the president will find a friendly audience of legislators whose political futures are closely tied to how well he performs in next year’s election.
Police blocked off a wide perimeter around the hotel. But a few blocks away, demonstrators inflated a giant rat carrying a cell phone and adorned with yellow hair and a red tie to make clear their mocking intentions. Protesters waved signs with messages like “Trump and the GOP are the real rats,” and “Welcome rat king.”
The White House said the president has no plans to explore Baltimore beyond his speech, which was to focus on his accomplishments during his first two-plus years in office and priorities for the year ahead.
Trump in July laced into the city in a series of tweets critical of Democratic Rep. Elijah Cummings, who represents the majority-black 7th Congressional District in Baltimore and also chairs the House oversight panel conducting numerous investigations of the administration’s policies and work.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, asked whether the president should apologize for his Baltimore comments, responded that Trump “made a very good case why many major cities have challenges.” He said the president’s trip “symbolizes that, yes, he cares about Baltimore,” adding that Trump is working to give people in poverty “a better opportunity.”
The GOP retreat was scheduled for Baltimore before Trump got into his spat with Cummings.
After Trump’s verbal broadsides, Cummings invited the president to tour his congressional district with him, from the poorest parts of Baltimore to more well-to-do areas outside the city in suburban Baltimore and Howard counties.
Trump has not backed away from his charges that Democratic leaders are responsible for the ills of America’s biggest cities. But for now, he’s making the argument in a less personal and less hostile manner. He’s also trying to win over blacks and Hispanics by citing employment gains they have made during his tenure. It’s a staple of most of his speeches.
The unemployment rate for black Americans fell sharply to 5.5% in August, hitting its lowest level since record-keeping began in 1972. But the drop was driven primarily by a negative development: Fewer African Americans were either working or seeking jobs. The unemployment rate for Americans of Hispanic or Latino ethnicity stood at 4.2%.
Baltimore, a once-gilded American seaport, has undeniable drug and violent crime challenges. The city saw more than 300 homicides in 2018 for the fourth year in a row. It also contends with deep-rooted poverty and swaths of the city are populated with vacant, boarded-up homes.
Freking reported from Washington.
Associated Press writer Regina Garcia Cano contributed to this report from Baltimore.