Trump launches new attacks on Cummings and Baltimore; Sharpton hits back

In a series of tweets Monday morning, President Donald Trump lashed out at Rev. Al Sharpton, calling him a “con man, a troublemaker” who “Hates Whites & Cops!”

He also continued his attacks on Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), the city of Baltimore (parts of which lie in Cummings’ district) and “The Squad” — a group of women of color and freshman lawmakers consisting of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan.

“If the Democrats are going to defend the Radical Left ‘Squad’ and King Elijah’s Baltimore Fail, it will be a long road to 2020,” Trump wrote.

Trump kicked the feud off over the weekend, and assailed Cummings as a racist after the president called the congressman’s majority-black district in the Baltimore area a “rodent-infested mess” where “no human being would want to live,” which drew widespread condemnation from Democrats as race-baiting.

Sharpton hit back Monday, posting a photo of himself to Instagram with Trump speaking to him, the Rev. Jesse Jackson and the late music legend James Brown.

“Trump at (National Action Network) Convention 2006 telling James Brown and Jesse Jackson why he respects my work. Different tune now,” Sharpton wrote.

Sharpton held a news conference later in the morning in Baltimore with former Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael Steele, a Republican, “to address Trump’s remarks & bipartisan outrage in the black community.”

“He doesn’t even know what he’s talking about,” Sharpton said of Trump, calling the president’s attacks on Cummings “an abomination.”

Addressing Trump’s attacks on himself, Sharpton said that he is indeed a “troublemaker.”

“I make trouble for bigots,” Sharpton told the crowd. “If he really thought I was a con man, he’d be nominating me for his cabinet.”

Steele called Trump’s comments “reprehensible” during the news conference and invited Trump to Baltimore to meet its residents.

“This is the politics of race at its ugliest,” Steele told WTOP. “Going after Elijah Cummings the way he did, talking about the people of Baltimore, saying that the community — that no human being could live there — what about the families that are living there? What about the children that are being raised there? What about the businesses that operate there?”

“There are struggles, there’s no doubt, Baltimore has been going through some difficult, challenging times,” Steele added. “But instead of tweeting about it and blaming the people who live there, come into the city. Sit down with them and learn what you can do as president. Use Baltimore as a model of your urban renewal efforts.”

Steele described Trump’s tweets as not becoming of a president.

Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., said the tweets about Cummings are part of a “racist pattern” of “degrading and dehumanized language from the president.”

“I think you have to challenge it,” he said in an interview with WTOP, when asked about those who suggest trying to ignore the president’s tweets. “Otherwise we would get into a pattern where the president of the United States can degrade the Oval Office without any kind of consequence or response.”

Van Hollen referred to the comments as part of a “sickening political strategy to distract peoples’ attention.”

“I think do not think this is a winning strategy,” he said, looking ahead to next year’s election. “I think it’s a testament to the fact that he cannot appear to unify the country. Most presidents, when they’re in office, they try to expand their support. His strategy is to keep his support where it is and try to intensify it.”

While outrage has been fast and furious from Democrats, Republicans have remained largely quiet.

“Everyone has to account for their actions or lack of actions; for their words or lack of words,” Steele told WTOP. “And the silence, the lack of response that would speak to the dignity of the Republican party — the dignity I thought we had on a matter like this … Could you imagine if Barack Obama had said about a poor, white community, that it was disgusting and not worth living in? What those Republicans would be saying right now? And what they would be doing?”

“They would be out of their skin. And rightly so.”

The response among Baltimore’s residents has widely been to speak out against the president’s tweets but there’s also concern that the real need for improvements in the city will be overshadowed.

“As much as I hate to agree with him, he ain’t all wrong,” Kevin Booze, a regular at Al’s Barber shop in South Baltimore, told WTOP’s Melissa Howell.

What bothers him is what he sees as a lack of sincere concern for the challenges Baltimore faces.

“He’s using it as a divisive point to his benefit,” Booze said.

His disapproval of Trump’s tweets doesn’t mean other politicians, including Elijah Cummings, get a pass. He still wants to see more done to uplift and support all of Baltimore.

Neil Alvanzo works as a life coach in Federal Hill and has lived in Baltimore for decades.

He’s seen firsthand the struggles that parts of Baltimore face but says Trump’s recent tweets about his city cut deep.

“What he said about Al Sharpton is an extension of him devaluing the contributions of African American people,” Alvanzo said.

He said Baltimore needs unity, not division.

Just down the street, Evan, a recent graduate from Florida, agrees.

“I don’t really like how he’s taking shots at the local politicians but I do think Baltimore needs a lot of work,” he said.

According to Alvanzo, the real focus needs to be on change.

“My goal is not just to live in a city but to try to make a difference,” he said.

Baltimore Sun statehouse reporter Luke Broadwater discussed the challenges Baltimore faces with WTOP, noting that the current situation in the city is largely due to decades of policy issues.

“To blame one politician whose district is so gerrymandered that it goes all over the area is probably not very accurate,” Broadwater told WTOP.

“We have history of, unfortunately, population loss due to subsidized ‘white flight’ to the suburbs, leaving behind vacant properties in some of the toughest parts of the city,” he said. “You have a terrible trash problem that clearly caught the president’s attention.”

According to Broadwater, there have been substantial efforts to fix those problems, but the city has been “treading water.”

“Every time they tear down an abandoned house, a new one appears,” he said. “And frankly, the city has raised its tax rate to be double what all the other jurisdictions in the state are to try to keep funding services. As population leaves, you have fewer and fewer people to tax. So that’s become a big problem too and that inhibits growth as well.”

Broadwater noted that for Baltimore to get back on its feet, it needs a lot of state and federal help.

A website for Baltimore supporters called WeAreBaltimore.com has been established in the wake of the feud.

Speaking from his office, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican who was just named chair of the National Governor’s Association, called Trump’s comments “outrageous” and “inappropriate.”

He said that as bad as the tweets were, “Guess what, the state and the city need the help of the Congress and the White House.”

“I say let’s stop the tweeting and let’s get to work.”

He called Baltimore “the heart of our state.”

Hogan was criticized on social media for not being more forceful in his response.

Trump did not address the feud at a 10 a.m. ceremony in the Rose Garden, where he signed the 9/11 victim compensation bill.

He told 9/11 survivors at the signing that he was “down there” on Sept. 11, 2001.

The Baltimore Sun published a scathing Op-Ed over the weekend in response to Trump’s digital missives titled “Better to have a few rats than to be one.”

“This is a president who will happily debase himself at the slightest provocation. And given Mr. Cummings’ criticisms of U.S. border policy, the various investigations he has launched as chairman of the House Oversight Committee, his willingness to call Mr. Trump a racist for his recent attacks on the freshmen congresswomen, and the fact that ‘Fox & Friends’ had recently aired a segment critical of the city, slamming Baltimore must have been irresistible in a Pavlovian way,” the paper wrote.

“Fox News rang the bell, the president salivated and his thumbs moved across his cell phone into action.”

In 2017, a collaborative investigation by The New York Times and ProPublica looked into Baltimore real estate holdings owned by one of Jared Kushner’s, the president’s son-in-law, companies: JK2 Westminster L.L.C.

Kushner stepped down as CEO of Kushner Companies in January of that year but remains a stakeholder.

WTOP’s Mitchell Miller, Melissa Howell, CNN and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Like WTOP on Facebook and follow @WTOP on Twitter to engage in conversation about this article and others.

© 2019 WTOP. All Rights Reserved. This website is not intended for users located within the European Economic Area.

More from WTOP

Log in to your WTOP account for notifications and alerts customized for you.

Sign up