Trump leans into Baltimore controversy by criticizing Sharpton

President TrumpDonald John TrumpGOP senators balk at lengthy impeachment trial Warren goes local in race to build 2020 movement 2020 Democrats make play for veterans' votes MORE on Monday leaned into the controversy sparked by his attacks on Baltimore and Rep. Elijah CummingsElijah Eugene CummingsBrindisi, Lamb recommended for Armed Services, Transportation Committees Maya Rockeymoore Cummings, Elijah Cummings's widow, will run for his House seat Former NAACP president to run for Cummings's House seat MORE (D-Md.), this time targeting another prominent black leader and a potential 2020 rival.

Trump chastised Cummings yet again via Twitter, accused Sen. Bernie SandersBernie Sanders2020 Democrats make play for veterans' votes 2020 Dems put focus on stemming veteran suicides The Memo: Democrats confront prospect of long primary MORE (I-Vt.) of racism for likening some Baltimore neighborhoods to a “third world country” in 2015, and claimed the Rev. Al Sharpton “Hates Whites & Cops!”

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It marked the third consecutive day Trump picked a fight with Democrats that centered on America's 30th largest city, which he has in recent days assailed as a “very dangerous & filthy place” where “no human being would want to live.”

“Baltimore, under the leadership of Elijah Cummings, has the worst Crime Statistics in the Nation,” Trump tweeted Monday morning. “25 years of all talk, no action! So tired of listening to the same old Bull...Next, Reverend Al will show up to complain & protest. Nothing will get done for the people in need. Sad!”

Trump’s repeated criticisms of the majority-black city drew more blowback on Monday from Democrats who have accused the president of stoking racial divisions for political gain.

“I know Donald Trump, he’s not mature enough to take criticism. He can’t help it. He’s like a child,” Sharpton told reporters in Baltimore, where he was attending a previously scheduled conference on black home ownership.

“But he has a particular venom for blacks and people of color,” Sharpton added. “He doesn’t refer to any of his other opponents or critics as ‘infested.’ ”

Sanders differentiated between his own comments and Trump's, arguing he has been focused on “fighting to lift the people of Baltimore and elsewhere out of poverty,” while Trump “has been attacking workers and the poor.”

“Trump's lies and racism never end,” the senator tweeted.

Trump’s allies once again sought to defend the president from accusations of racism — just weeks after a high-profile fight over Trump’s calling for four progressive congresswomen to go back to their countries to “help fix the totally broken crime infested places from which they came.” All four lawmakers are U.S. citizens, and three were born in America.

Trump’s use of the word “infested” was one point of focus for his critics. He has repeatedly deployed terms like “crime infested” and “rat infested” to refer to urban areas inhabited by migrants as well as the Atlanta district represented by Rep. John LewisJohn LewisDemocrats ramp up oversight efforts over 'opportunity zone' incentive The 13 House Democrats who back Kavanaugh's impeachment Detroit police chief calls Tlaib facial recognization idea 'racist' MORE (D-Ga.), another prominent African American.

Trump's advisers say the president is a victim of a double standard and that his rhetoric is being unfairly criticized as racist. They see little risk for Trump's tweets to weaken his base of support heading into 2020.

“The tweets were about the plight of Baltimore, completely without regard to race,” a Trump campaign spokesperson said. “The media has made this a racial issue, when it is nothing of the sort. It is notable that no one has challenged the president’s description of Baltimore’s condition.”

The spokesperson pointed to Trump's passage of criminal justice reform, the implementation of economic opportunity zones and declining unemployment rates for African Americans to argue his record with the black community is strong.

And Trump himself expressed Monday that he felt he could turn the images of decrepit inner cities into a winning campaign issue.

“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 tweeted.

The city of Baltimore, like most urban centers, voted overwhelmingly for Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham Clinton2020 Democrats make play for veterans' votes The Memo: Democrats confront prospect of long primary Manafort sought to hurt Clinton 2016 campaign efforts in key states: NYT MORE in the 2016 election. But Trump and his allies believe that by contrasting problems with Democratic-run cities with Trump's accomplishments for minority communities, it can persuade swing voters to vote for him in 2020.

“You might not like the tweets, but there’s substance there and the president’s tweets are actually allowing us to talk about the substance,” said Kelly Sadler, communications director at the pro-Trump super PAC America First Action.

Trump has repeatedly blamed Cummings for the state of affairs in Baltimore, tagging the congressman in multiple videos showing poor conditions in the city and questioning why the district receives federal funding.

A Fox News segment early Saturday featured images of abandoned homes in the city that had been used as dumping grounds for garbage. Trump went on to blast Cummings, calling Maryland's 7th Congressional District “the Worst in the USA” and accusing the congressman — the son of South Carolina sharecroppers — of being a racist.

“The fact is, Baltimore can be brought back, maybe even to new heights of success and glory, but not with King Elijah and that crew,” Trump tweeted Monday morning, referring mockingly to Cummings. “When the leaders of Baltimore want to see the City rise again, I am in a very beautiful oval shaped office waiting for your call!”

But local leaders have voiced frustration with Trump's tweets and questioned why he doesn't take initiative to aid cities in need of assistance.

“I mean, if you want to help us, help us,” Baltimore Mayor Bernard Young (D) said Monday on CNN. “Don't talk about it, send the resources we need to rebuild America.”

Michael Steele, a Republican and the first black man elected to statewide office in Maryland, stood alongside Sharpton in Baltimore on Monday and invited the president to walk through the communities he disparaged over the weekend.

“The streets are ready for you. The neighborhoods are ready for you. Folks want to talk to you,” said Steele, a former Republican National Committee chairman. “So just show up. Put the tweet down, brother, and show up.”

Trump met privately on Monday afternoon with inner city pastors. Two of the attendees spoke with reporters after the gathering, and said it had been scheduled prior to the president's weekend tweets focusing on Baltimore and Cummings.
 
Bill OwensWilliam (Bill) Lewis OwensBlack pastor tells CNN's Lemon that Trump doesn't 'just attack black people. He attacks anybody' Trump leans into Baltimore controversy by criticizing Sharpton Steve Kroft bids farewell to '60 Minutes' after 30 seasons MORE, the founder of and president of the Coalition of African American Pastors, said they discussed issues facing the black community. He defended Trump's weekend commentary and said he would encourage the president to visit Baltimore at some point.